God squad flummoxed by synthetic life

So what does God think about Craig Venter’s creation of ‘artificial life’?

Well, it’s a resounding ‘no comment’, according to his closest confidants, although some hope to get his opinion soon.

You’d think he’d have some thoughts on the matter. Treading on his toes just a bit, geneticists at the Craig Venter Insitute have created what they call the world’s first artificial living cell.

They carefully crafted DNA, base pair by base pair, and inserted it into an emptied-out yeast cell to create a self-replicating bacterium controlled entirely by the artificial DNA.

The use of the yeast cell means there’s some argument over whether it can really be called artificial life. But if this isn’t it, well, it’s pretty clear it’s not a long step.

Creating life isn’t difficult – millions of people do it by accident every year. But doing it from scratch, to order, has so far been the monopoly of one particular entity.

But over the last 24 hours, God has been surprisingly quiet on the subject, say the people with the hotlines.

“It’s too early a stage to have a comment,” said a spokeswoman for the Catholic Communications Network.

And the Baptists haven’t heard a word, either: “It’s a very new thing, and I haven’t heard anything,” said a Baptist Union of Great Britain spokesman. “I don’t know if there’ll be a statement.”

No comment either from the Mormons, Muslim Council of Great Britain… well, anyone, really.

Even medical ethicists seem to have no strong opinions either way – a bit of a swizz, you might think, seeing as that’s actually their job and all.

“Synthetic biology certainly raises deep philosophical and moral questions about the human relationship to nature,” says Gregory Kaebnick, of the Hastings Center, a bioethical research institute.

“It’s not clear what the answers to those questions are.”

Where there is any opinion, it centres around the practical implications of synthetic life, rather than the ethical ones.

“Developing synthetic life forms such as synthetic viruses or bacteria with no natural predators is extremely dangerous,” says Dr Stephen Napier, ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

“Bioterrorism and environmental degradation, from synthetic life escaping into the wild, are serious consequences – and if no strict protections are in place for preventing such events, there should be a moratorium on the research.”

The fact that religious groups are so slow to jump in with opinions just goes to show how well they appreciate the importance of this research.

Synthetic life is one of those discoveries that really could change the world. Applications include biofuels, vastly improved vaccines and drugs, even organic computers – but may well go much further than that.

If religious groups get the party line wrong now, it could make things a tad difficult in future. Forgoing contraception or blood transfusions could start to look easy in comparison.