Understanding the Frankenstein Tradition

In the three months since researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute, led by Venter himself, synthesized the genome of a bacterium and inserted it into the cell of a different variety of bacteria, reactions have ranged from “slight novelty” to “looming apocalypse.” The former is more apt: Venter’s creation is evolutionary, not revolutionary.

Editors’Note: August 4, 2017
Legitimateobjections have been raised about the independence and integrity of thecommentaries that Henry Miller has written for Project Syndicate and other outlets, inparticular that Monsanto, rather than Miller, drafted some of them. Readersshould be aware of this potential conflict of interest, which, had it beenknown at the time Miller’s commentaries were accepted, would have constitutedgrounds for rejecting them.

PALO ALTO – “It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive... IT’S ALIVE!” So said Dr. Victor Frankenstein when his “creation” was complete. Researchers have long been fascinated with trying to create life, but mainly they have had to settle for crafting variations of living organisms via mutation or other techniques of genetic engineering.amp#160;

In May, researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute, led by Venter himself, synthesized the genome of a bacterium from scratch using chemical building blocks, and inserted it into the cell of a different variety of bacteria. The new genetic information “rebooted” its host cell and got it to function, replicate, and take on the characteristics of the “donor.” In other words, a sort of synthetic organism had been created.

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