Origin of Life: Synthetic Life3 min read

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Were scientists able to “create” life?  

In May 2010, a team of scientists led by Dr J. Craig Venter became the first to successfully create what was described as “synthetic life”.  

Dr. Venter is an American biotechnologist and businessman, known for many remarkable contributions in the field of genetics. 

The experiment to create life was done by synthesizing a very long DNA molecule containing an entire bacterium genome, and introducing this into another cell. The single-celled organism contains four “watermarks” written into its DNA to identify it as synthetic and to help trace its descendants. The watermarks include 

  • Code table for the entire alphabet with punctuations 
  • Names of 46 contributing scientists 
  • Three quotations 
  • The secret email address for the cell 

The synthetic life project went through multiple phases 

  • First, the team edited an existing DNA and inserted it into another living bacterial cell 
  • In 2010, they created & designed the complete DNA and introduced it to genomically emptied bacterial host cells. The host cells were able to grow and replicate. The resulting new organism was called: The Mycoplasma laboratorium 
  • In 2014, they extracted the E-coli genome, and replaced it with a chromosome that has an artificial expanded genetic code 
  • The team is still continuing the efforts to create new synthetic forms of life, as variants of the bacteria E-coli. 

These efforts provide massive applications like manufacturing pharmaceuticals and detoxifying polluted land and water. 

However, that new “synthetic life” was not made by humans out of non-living components, because: 

  • In the process of assembling the DNA molecule, a lot of enzymes and components were taken from other living cells 
  • The information within the DNA itself, a lot of it was learned, copied or replicated from existing DNA codes 
  • The host cell is still a living cell with pre-existing capabilities of reading the codes in the DNA and producing protein accordingly, so it’s more like replacing its original software by another customized one 
  • All these efforts are still focusing on simple single cellular organisms, as other forms of life are extremely complex 

In other words, a living “artificial cell” has been defined as a completely synthetic cell that can capture energy, maintain ion gradients, contain macromolecules as well as store information and have the ability to mutate. Nobody has been able to create such a cell. 

On the other hand, these scientific efforts actually point to a couple of conclusions: 

  • That the digitally designed information that’s encoded into our DNA proves that life is much more than just chemistry and physics, with highly fine-tuned information on top controlling who we are. This information should come from intelligence. 
  • That with the help of advanced computing and laboratories, existing purpose and knowledge, and existing life to copy from, it was still very hard to design and produce a functioning DNA, so how hard can it be to imagine that these complex systems were created on their own just by random or unguided natural processes with no tools or intention to create living organisms. 

If you want to read more about faith, science and evolution, check: Darwin and the Origin of Life

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