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Have Synthetic Biologists Created Life From Non-Life?

From Issue: R&R – Issue 33 #1

You may have heard of the field of science known as synthetic biology. In this highly advanced area of science, engineers utilize their understanding of biology to “create” new life forms not found in nature. According to SyntheticBiology.org, synthetic biology involves “the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems” and “the re-design of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes” (“Synthetic Biology,” 2012). Perhaps this conjures up in your mind, as it does in the minds of many others, images of Dr. Frankenstein sewing pieces of dead tissue together into a monster on his laboratory table and bringing it to life. Is this what goes on in synthetic biology? Can scientists create life?

In a word: no. Life cannot come from non-life without supernatural help (cf. Miller, 2012). God alone “gives to all life” (Acts 17:25). Notice that a careful reading of what synthetic biology involves reveals that these engineers are designing and constructing new biological parts, not life; re-designing existing biological systems, not bringing systems to life. Earlier this year, The New York Times ran an article highlighting the remarkable work of Craig Venter, a synthetic biologist who is working on a project involving designing custom bugs. According to the article,

Each of the bugs will have a mission. Some will be designed to devour things, like pollution. Others will generate food and fuel. There will be bugs to fight global warming, bugs to clean up toxic waste, bugs to manufacture medicine and diagnose disease, and they will all be driven to complete these tasks by the very fibers of their synthetic DNA (Hylton, 2012).

There is no doubt that such feats of engineering would be worth high accolades and recognition from the scientific community but, again, Venter is not creating life itself.

Though the authors might wish to “accidentally” convey that idea, since such a feat would certainly attract more attention to the article, a careful reading of the fairly lengthy story reveals the truth. Venter’s methods involve manufacturing DNA and injecting it into a host cell. “It means taking four bottles of chemicals—the adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine that make up DNA—and linking them into a daisy chain at least half a million units long, then inserting that molecule into a host cell” that they hope will be able to reproduce. “[T]he DNA was modeled on a natural organism and was inserted into a natural cell.” So a cell is already alive and in existence, and the man-made (i.e, man-mixed) DNA is injected into the living cell. Venter, himself, notes that his team is constructing the DNA, not the cell. “It is just the DNA. You have to have the cell there to read it” (Hylton).

Notice also that the life forms being developed are not completely new designs. According to the article, “the DNA was modeled on a natural organism” (Hylton). Nobel laureate David Baltimore, commenting on Venter’s work, said, “He has not created life, only mimicked it” (Hylton). In other words, this is another example of biomimicry—an act of plagiarism, in a sense, when carried out by atheists.

So, life has not been created. The cell is already alive when it is manipulated by engineers using their DNA designs. A new life form is being designed, but life itself has not been created from non-life. The Law of Biogenesis stands. In nature, life comes only from life of its kind. God is needed in the recipe in order to arrive at life from non-life. [NOTE: For more on Venter and synthetic biology, see Deweese, 2010]

REFERENCES

Deweese, Joe (2010), “Has Life Been Made From Scratch?” Apologetics Press, https://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=9&article=3597.

Hylton, Wil S. (2012), “Craig Venter’s Bugs Might Save the World,” The New York Times, May 30, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/03/magazine/craig-venters-bugs-might-save-the-world.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

Miller, Jeff (2012), “The Law of Biogenesis,” Reason & Revelation, 32[1]:2-11, January, https://apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=1018&article=1722.

“Synthetic Biology” (2012), OpenWetWare, http://syntheticbiology.org/.


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