The Guardian website announced this afternoon that Craig Ventner is about to announce the creation of a chromosome. The article headings are:-
I am creating artificial life, declares US gene pioneer
Â· Scientist has made synthetic chromosome
Â· Breakthrough could combat global warming
I have less than zero capacity to judge the legitimacy of this news item. It’s obviously ‘pop science’ journalism. That normally means that I apply my one-tenth-understanding to some science journalist’s half-understanding.
Mr Venter told the Guardian he thought this landmark would be “a very important philosophical step in the history of our species. We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before”.
That said, taking the news at face value, this does seem to be a potentially huge ethical issue. It could be really good or really bad, depending on the social and political context that such research is sued in.
I can’t help having a bit of a doom and gloom response. I don’t think our track record as a non-creator species is good enough to justify us getting even greater power over the nature of life. (I’ve read Mary Shelley, ffs.)
The Guardian’s mention of a solution to global warming just reminds me that global climate change is the perfect example of an issue where we humans have created a problem and refuse to solve it. (Maybe we haven’t solved it because we couldn’t create artificial life? Sorry, I can’t follow that argument even in sarcasm)
The people in power won’t even admit to the reality of climate change because it might cut their profits and the voting public might object to anything except untrammelled consumer growth so cut off their access to power if they even tried. These are two very short-term concerns that affect a small number of people but they are what determine the world’s response to global warming.
Is our species about to change? Are our leaders all about to become wise and beneficent masters of the universe? In that case, the power to create test tube life is safe in their hands……