Mon Aug 20, 2018 | 02:07
Dawn of the Syntgen Age
Wed, 26 May 2010 16:58:54 GMT
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By Hamid Golpira

Last week the world changed and it will never be the same.

On May 20, genomics pioneer Craig Venter announced that scientists of the J. Craig Venter Institute had created a synthetic cell.

The scientists wrote four watermarks into the DNA of the single-celled organism to identify it as synthetic and to “help trace its descendants back to their creator, should they go astray.”

O brave new world that has such organisms in it.

Over the past century, the human race has gone from the Industrial Age to the Nuclear Age to the Space Age to the Information Age. And now it appears the Synthetic Genomics Age has begun. It could also be called the Syntgen Age.

What has just happened is mind-boggling.

Humanity has entered unchartered territory.

Call the bioethicists.

The ethical, philosophical, religious, cultural, social, political, and scientific implications of this new development are truly unfathomable.

In the Islamic world, Al-Azhar University and the seminaries of Najaf and Qom should study the situation and make appropriate religious rulings.

After the announcement that the first synthetic cell had been created, Vatican and Catholic Church officials in Italy responded cautiously but said that such scientific discoveries must ultimately benefit mankind.

“If it is used toward the good, to treat pathologies, we can only be positive,” the Vatican's top bioethics official, Monsignor Rino Fisichella, told Italian state-run television news program TG Uno, DPA reported.

“If it turns out not to be… useful to respect the dignity of the person, then our judgment would change,” Fisichella, who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, added.

John Brehany, the executive director and ethicist of the Catholic Medical Association of the United States, advised people to uphold vigilance prior to using the latest technology, Top News reported.

Bioethicists of other religions should also study the matter carefully.

Terry Boehm, the president of the National Farmers Union of the United States, called the world's first “100 per cent synthetic life form” a risk “for humankind and the environment.”

“This new technology raises serious concerns about who controls it, what it will be used for, and its potential impact,” Top News quoted him as saying.

This new development raises a number of ethical and legal questions about whether life can be patented, since the Venter institute will probably apply for patents for the new cell and any other synthetic life forms it creates.

Scientists should also study the applications of synthetic genomics.

No one knows what the result would be of cross-breeding between natural organisms and synthetic organisms.

Synthetic genomics can have positive and negative applications. Craig Venter himself hinted at this when he said it is a dual-use technology.

In 50 to 70 years, we homo sapiens sapiens may find ourselves sharing the planet with synthetic humanoids. An expression has even been coined, homo sapiens syntheticus, to describe the new beings.

And we may go the way of the Neanderthals.

A new age has truly begun for humanity. But there are so many unknown factors at play, we should proceed with extreme caution.

Pandora's Box has been opened and it can never be closed again.
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