If it CAN Be Done…

Yes, It’s Possible. But…

I won’t be able to do justice to this topic now, but did want to bring it up (as if a post here made a ripple in even the smallest pond!) because I think this is going to be a very large bioethical matter to consider and probably will stun the world with how quickly it will move from the present “almost creating life in the lab” to the full blown capability to produce “designer cells”.

It will be done for all the right reasons–produce more food, cure more diseases, reduce oil and CO2 pollution, make cheap energy.

And it will be perhaps the most powerful two-edged sword technology has ever created, both stunningly powerful for both good and evil.

Venter bothers me, and has for a decade. He’s a scientist with dollar signs in his eyes, and powerfully clever and persistent and ambitious. Be careful.

“If it can be done, it should be done.” That might be described as the mission statement for the application of technology at the behest of American industry and corporate shareholders. The word hubris comes to mind.

In light of our present predicament in the Gulf of Mexico, I’d prefer to proceed with both caution and humility. We won’t.

Assessing the impact of Venter’s ‘synthetic life’

‘Artificial life’ breakthrough announced by scientists

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. “In light of our present predicament in the Gulf of Mexico, I’d prefer to proceed with both caution and humility. We won’t.”

    Seems to me there should be a logical rationale for how we are to proceed rather than a contextual motivation based on an singular event that might or might not be of today’s interest.

  2. Seems to me that saying “we can drill safely in the gulf” and learning the terrible reality that we can’t should have some bearing on a full speed ahead charge into the technology of “creating cells” where assurances come based more on profit than on established science. Hopefully a healthy awareness of what can be lost will lead to “logical rationale” to move ahead–or, to NOT move ahead. My point is that we seldom make the decision to NOT do something we become technically able to do. The ability becomes the justification for the doing. As powerful as our future tools might be, this seems an irrational rationale.

  3. From my reasonably educated point of view (biology degree, with course work in the 1990’s in genetics and cell physiology), I am alarmed by Venter’s work. Synthetic organisms could wreak havoc if released, and how can they be used as solutions to problems if they are not released? Heaven help us.