Printer Friendly

Venter's synthetic cell divides the world.

THE stunning announcement about the creation of a synthetic cell, or ' synthia', in the laboratory by maverick geneticist Dr J. Craig Venter evoked extreme reactions on Friday.

While scientists described it as " one of the most important scientific achievements in the history of science", religious groups and critics called for a moratorium on such research.

Their main fears are related to certain ethical and safety issues.

Critics fear that the technology of creating synthetic building blocks of life developed by Venter and his research teams could be used by terrorists to develop weapons of bioterrorism.

Venter agreed that it is a powerful technology that falls in the category of " dual use technology", but said: " It's hard to find a technology today that's not dual use where it could be used to do harm to somebody, or used for public benefit." He says while the new technology could provide " a linear increase in the ability for somebody to do harm, but it's an exponential increase in a toolset that can be used to help humanity". Bob Friedman of J. Craig Venter Institute ( JCVI) said it would be possible for someone to use this technology to synthesise a pathogen. " We have a government infrastructure that controls access to really nasty stuff that we would not like a potential bioterrorist to acquire," he pointed out. The US government is considering screening procedures for genomic companies so as to detect whether somebody was trying to synthesise a pathogen. One of the scientific ways to control new pathogens could be the so- called " suicide genes" that kick in to prevent the organism from living outside the lab or environment.

Responding to fears of risks involved in the new development, US President Barack Obama asked the Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to " consider the potential medical, environmental, security and other benefits of this field of research, as well as any potential health, security or other risks". The panel has also been asked to identify ethical boundaries and risks involved in synthetic biology research.

" It is a major scientific breakthrough, but it needs to be treated with great deal of caution," said Dr Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign.

" Synthetic biology has great potential for misuse as well as harm to the environment. Here we are dealing with organisms that are not a product of evolution, they have no pedigree, our bodies have no immune response to them and we don't know how they are going to impact on the environment." Besides fears of biosafety and biosecurity, religious groups are opposing Venter's work on the grounds of ethics involved in tampering naturally occurring life forms. " Only God can create life", they warn scientists. " The organised religion has always been opposed to new ideas and new knowledge.

They had even opposed surgery and painkillers," pointed out Sanal Edamaruku of Indian Rationalist Society.

" Venter's achievement would seem to extinguish the argument that life requires a special force or power to exist," said Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics at University of Pennsylvania.

Some scientists have sounded a note of grave caution.

" These new powers create new responsibilities. Nobody can be sure about the consequences of making new forms of life, and we must expect the unexpected and the unintended," noted Mark Bedau, bioethics expert at Reed College, Oregon, in a special commentary in scientific journal Nature . Kenneth Oye, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said: " Right now, we are shooting in the dark as to what the long- term benefits will be." Pat Mooney, of the ETC group, a technology watchdog with a special interest in synthetic biology, said: " This is a Pandora's box moment -- like the splitting of the atom or the cloning of Dolly the sheep, we will all have to deal with the fallout from this alarming experiment." Dr David King, of the Human Genetics Alert watchdog, said: " What is dangerous is these scientists' ambitions for total and unrestrained control over nature." Reports said that three Indianorigin scientists are part of Venter's team. The 24- member team included Sanjay Vashee, Radha Krishnakumar and Prashanth P. Parmar. ' '

Copyright 2009 India Today Group. All Rights Reserved.

Provided by an company
COPYRIGHT 2010 Al Bawaba (Middle East) Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:May 22, 2010
Previous Article:Vasant Valley outshines all others.
Next Article:You can now tweet from your iPhone.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters