View Full Version : When Will Scientists Create Living Things?
04-26-2002, 11:22 AM
When are scientists expected to be able to creating living things from raw materials (chemicals)? Is the easiest thing to create a bacteria or a virus?? How long is it expected to be before this is accomplished???
04-26-2002, 11:40 AM
I'm not a bio-chemist or anything, but I'm asking when scientists will be able to create biological organisms- ones that eat, move around, and reproduce on their own- out of chemicals alone.
I'm not an expert in the field myself, but I believe that though in your OP you included viruses as an example of a "living" thing, they do not meet your criteria. They don't eat, and I don't think they reproduce on their own, but rather invade cells which reproduce thus increasing the virus population, but I'm not really sure about that.
Also, a robot can be programmed to do all the things you specify but I think you would agree that this is not "alive" in the way that you are asking.
So again I ask, how do you define "living"?
04-26-2002, 12:20 PM
Viruses aren't technically "living" things, according to a lot of scientists, because they use the reproductive mechanisms of organisms to reproduce - they can't do it on their own. But, some people disagree with that classification, and so I guess I'm just bringing it up as a nitpick :)
I don't know if there is even a proposed timeframe for what you are asking - a cell, even the simplest ones, is a ridiculously complex thing - the sheer number of proteins, DNA, organelles and other cellular components that make up a cell make synthesizing it all and placing it together in a functional and self-sustaining manner is, I think, still definitely WAY our of our reach. (is that a coherent sentence?)
I'm just thinking of DNA - we know what its made up of, and we have coded many bacteral genomes (E.Coli, or H. Influenza, or plenty of others) , but making our own nucleic acids, ans putting them together in a coherent manner is really difficult without a template (ie another DNA strand) to base it on. You can't just place these things in a beaker and expect them to line up in the order you want them to. Controlling this type of reaction may be next to impossible. Is is, however, very easy to take an existing DNA strand and copy it in vitro as many times as you like. If you were to try to make it, once you have that made, you then have to make the polymerases, and ribosomes and other RNA needed just to copy the DNA, and then you'd have to make the Golgi and the sER and rER and all the other cellular components - I think, from scratch, its just way too...HUGE of a project to do.
I will, however, try and find the time to look up more of this stuff, and see where we are, but as a biochemistry student, my mind boggles at the thought of making it all from scratch, and having it be REAL life.
04-26-2002, 12:25 PM
I read in a science magazine years ago about a scientist who planned on making self-replicating RNA out of basic molecules. I don't know if the experiment succeeded or not, or even if it would fall under most definitions of life, but it's darn close.
04-26-2002, 04:38 PM
If you can give a timetable, it is not science, it is technology. I would not believe anyone who claims he could give a timetable; there is simply too much basic science to be done first. I just happened to be rereading Foundation (having just read Psychohistorical Crisis by Don Kingsbury, 14,000 years later and I highly recommend it) and realized with a start that when Asimov wrote it, in 1951, he, a biochemist didn't know the structure of DNA! So we have come a long way fast. But we probably haven't come 10% of the way, maybe not 1% of the way towards creating cellular life in a test tube.
04-27-2002, 12:17 AM
Actually, there was a group a while back that decided to take a mycoplasma - the simplest type of bacteria - and start knocking out genes in an attempt to figure out what the minimum amount of genetic material required for life was. Well, when they found out, they realized it would be really quite simple to synthesize all the DNA required, insert it into an empty cell, and create life. They stopped there. Last I heard, they'd put together a panel of people to discuss the ethical implications of such a step and decide whether they should do it or not.
04-27-2002, 03:19 PM
insert it into an empty cellAnd where do they propose to get the cell? Do they have some way of making that, too? And the cell they'd need would be far from empty: At the very least, for their creation to be alive, they'd need the ribosomes and enzymes to transcribe the DNA.
04-27-2002, 03:44 PM
We are just learning how to read the genome much less how it produces proteins. And noware near understanding the billons of proteins, how they interact, how they fold ect. ect. and so on. In other words we are just starting to learn about the different kinds of bricks. We have no Idea how to make the bricks. And certanly don't know how to put the bricks togeather. Biochemistry is in its infantcy.
04-27-2002, 03:49 PM
Good point, Chronos.
Just to clarify my question I was asking about the possiblity of life being made 100% synthetically. Reverse-engineering the cell is okay, but the materials used must come from non-living raw materials (pure chemicals, individual molecules).
But how long before they can make an 'artificial' mycoplasma? A few decades?? A few centuries???
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