Should we be worried about this artificial life development reported in the journal Science recently? A US science institute has created artificial life. It’s only a chromosome but has the potential to become cellular life. Mycoplasma genitalium, has the smallest known genome of any truly living organism, with 485 working genes.
the team at the non-profit J. Craig Venter Institute in Maryland has been working for years to try to build M. genitalium from scratch.
Ventor has noble aims: to make synthetic microorganisms that could be used for producing biofuels, cleaning up toxic waste or pulling excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The problem lies with the knowledge that once released life has a habit of doing its own thing. It mutates under natural radiation from the sun and rocks and so become less harmless than intended. There are some nasty people and governments around who might think ill-advisedly that their aims may be furthered by employing artificial microbes to reverse pollution clean ups. Maybe to add poisons into the atmosphere and oceans. You might think that there are already plenty of natural nasties out there, and you’d be right. It’s always amused me that food companies like to add the word ‘Natural’ to packaging as if everything in Nature is good for us. Have they heard of Poison Ivy, Deadly Nightshade, Manure? Would you want to eat those in your next snack bar because its labelled as Natural? Nor me!
So maybe a few more tiny organisms in the environment won’t matter, especially if they really do help clean up after us. On the other hand there have been plenty of science fiction stories where such artificial nanotechniks have gone berserk and ate the hands that made them. It could be that homo sapiens end up being replaced by Mycoplasma genitalium or their cousins in the future. I wonder if they’ll read science fiction?