Pioneering effort

The creation of new and synthetic life form, called ‘Synthia,’ in the laboratory by a team led by US biologist Craig Ventor is both controversial and revolutionary. Ventor is a pioneer in genetic research and had unravelled the first DNA sequence of a living organism in 1995 and has since been trying to crack the secret of life and recreate it. The success that he has claimed may be termed partial by some scientists, because he has only transplanted a genome into a bacterium and found that it has taken on the characteristics of life. But the important point is that the genome is man-made in a laboratory out of chemicals and for practical purposes the new cell is a created one. It has no past and ancestry and can therefore be called a new species.

The event has been compared to the splitting of the atom or other epoch-making landmarks in the history of science. The implications and consequences are very big. The process can lead to development of customised drugs, production of clean fuels, regeneration of wastelands and elimination of pollution by greenhouse gases. But it can also lead to the production of new biological weapons and a rogue state or a terrorist group can make use of it for wrong purposes. The existence of the humanity may be endangered if by accident or design the new power gets out of the genie and becomes a Frankenstein. These are legitimate concerns but it is also a fact that all major discoveries in science have been accompanied by such apprehensions and even the projection of doomsday scenarios. They have posed ethical and philosophical questions and enlarged the human mind with new answers and greater knowledge about himself and the world he lives in.

There are other scientists also who are working on creation of life in the laboratory in ways other than that tried by Ventor. It is stated that if they succeed, they will have gone even farther than Ventor in creating life out of inanimate matter. There is no case for banning or controlling such scientific work. When the possibilities and destructive potential of  new knowledge, processes and technologies become evident, the world may have to be vigilant against misuse. Regulations may be needed to ensure that they are not misused. This may not be easy.  But a ban on knowledge may not be practical and desirable.

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