Life: How Do We Know?

william smith
Dec 2, 2020 · 4 min read

“While in a previous age keeping Pandora’s box closed meant preventing nuclear war, today it’s about preventing biotech dangers.” — Scott Moore, Director, Global China Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Cambrian Genomics was a biotechnology company based in San Francisco that used a laser-based technique to synthesize DNA. In 2013 Cambrian produced genetic material for genetically modified glowing plants ( https://youtu.be/01K1WlpCAC0 ) for sale to the public. In Austen Heinz’s vision of the future, customers tinker with the genetic codes of plants and animals and even design new creatures on a computer. Then his startup, Cambrian Genomics, prints that DNA accurately and cheaply.

A few founders of Cambrian Genomics, pushed the technical and ethical boundaries of science as far as Heinz did. He told the Wall Street Journal, “I can’t believe that after 10 or 20 years people will not design their children digitally.” At a conference in Vienna, Heinz said, “We want to make totally new organisms that never existed.

Somatic Nuclear Transfer

Somatic Nuclear transfer is a form of cloning. The steps involve

  1. removing the DNA from an oocyte (unfertilised egg), and
  2. injecting the nucleus which contains the DNA to be cloned. The newly constructed cell will divide normally, replicating the new DNA while remaining in a pluripotent state.
  3. When the cloned cells are placed in the uterus of a female mammal, a cloned organism develops to term.
  4. Alternatively, cells created for therapeutic cloning are transplanted into a patient to treat a disease from which the patient suffers.

That is how Dolly the Sheep and many other species were cloned. Cows are commonly cloned to select those that have the best milk production. On 24 January 2018, two monkey clones were created with the technique for the first time. The primates were born from two independent surrogate pregnancies at the Institute of Neuroscience of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai.

In Regenesis, Harvard geneticist, George Church, describes Synthetic Biology as

the science of selectively altering the genes of organisms to make them do things that they wouldn’t do in their original, natural, untouched state.”

Synthetic biology, which enables the production of small molecules on demand, is a field of science that involves redesigning organisms by engineering them to have new abilities. It can be seen as involving any imaginable way of redesigning — or even repurposing — organisms and parts of organisms to have new features and functions.

Synthetic genomics has the potential to recapitulate the course of natural genomic evolution, with the difference that the course of synthetic genomics will be under our conscious control instead of being directed by the blind processes of natural selection.” — George Church

Multiplex automated genome engineering (MAGE) is a new method for large-scale programming and evolution of cells. MAGE simultaneously targets many locations on the chromosome, thus producing combinatorial genomic diversity. Because the process is cyclical and scalable, MAGE facilitates rapid and continuous generation of a diverse set of genetic changes (mismatches, insertions, deletions). This multiplex approach embraces engineering in the context of evolution by expediting the design and evolution of organisms with new and improved properties.

The embryo was conceived the year after her mother was born.”

Molly is believed to have set a new record for the longest-frozen embryo to have resulted in a birth, breaking a record set by her older sister, Emma.

Synthetic biology is developing into a bio-design platform where it will be possible to predictably create cells or organisms able to produce a wide variety of novel molecules, materials or even cells for multiple applications. However, as this technology progresses great precautions must be taken to prevent biotech dangers, especially for human beings from human beings, like Nevada physician Quincy Fortier.

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Notes:

Regenesis, How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves, George Church & Ed Regis, Basic Books, New York, 2014

The Humanists of Our Generation

Philosophy publications are scarce on Medium.

william smith

Written by

Husband for 49 years. Dad forever! Very lucky man.

The Humanists of Our Generation

Philosophy publications are scarce on Medium. Philosophical minds are scarce in Politics. They are scarce in the public. That has to change. This is a publication that treasures humanists. We question what sort of society we should build for a communal environment to flourish in.

william smith

Written by

Husband for 49 years. Dad forever! Very lucky man.

The Humanists of Our Generation

Philosophy publications are scarce on Medium. Philosophical minds are scarce in Politics. They are scarce in the public. That has to change. This is a publication that treasures humanists. We question what sort of society we should build for a communal environment to flourish in.

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