Sunday, May 23, 2010

An Open Letter to Dr. Craig Venter

Dear Dr. Craig Venter,

Your announcement on May 20th that your lab had created the first synthetic cell has left me absolutely terrified. Because of your work, I fear that the human race is now teetering on the edge of self-destruction. Although I assume that you had good intentions when you embarked on such a foolhardy line of experimentation, you have obviously failed to fully consider the possible consequences of your actions. Like many scientists and inventors in times past you seem to take pride in your ability to arrogantly tinker with nature – Dr. Venter, consider the consequences!

Like you, the inventor of the wheel probably intended only to help humanity by providing a new technology for improved transportation, but that near sidedness ultimately resulted in despair and anguish for the rest of us. By not thinking about the consequences of the vile wheel, its inventor didn’t plan for the possibility of wheeled-trailers used to move mobile nuclear missiles, wheeled-vehicles pumping noxious fumes into the atmosphere or even the potential for road killed kittens. No, the inventor of the wheel selfishly left those concerns for future generations to resolve – Dr. Venter, think about future generations!

I’m not a geneticist, but I know enough about science to understand that by meddling around with DNA you run the risk of creating super-viruses, flesh eating bacteria and possibly even tyrannosaurs. The perfection seen in nature is the result of thousands of years of evolution, and that evolution has brought everything into harmony. By creating synthetic cells you run the risk of altering the course of evolution; you could inadvertently upset the natural harmonies that exists between things like parasitoid wasps and their host caterpillars, you could unintentionally change petroleum’s natural adhesion to the Gulf of Mexico, or you could even disrupt the natural balance that exists between humans and the HIV virus – Dr. Venter don’t upset the natural balance!

Life isn’t just chemistry. Life is an invisible force driven by a magical spirit-energy that flows through all of us. You must understand that only God can create life, and because of that only he can understand how life works. Your ego has obviously overridden your ability to reason; you have no idea how DNA, cells or biology really function – Dr. Venter, stop playing God!

P.S. On second thought, the above pleading is probably unnecessary… After all, your so called ‘synthetic cell’ is really no big deal at all. So what, you can turn a few million digits on a computer screen into a living and reproducing organism. Big whoop! You scientists should be focusing on more important issues.

Concerned Citizen

Gibson et al. (2010) Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome. Science Express. PDF File .


  1. Well, technically...they introduced a synthetic *genome* (of a digitised sequence from an extant species) into a cell, not made a new cell. One often forgets the existence of, you know, cells and cytoplasm and all that, in the era of modern genomics.

    Not that I pay any attention to the whining by concern trolls or dismisal by random people with no understanding of biology whatsoever. But the hype is a bit out of proportion too... there's more to an organism than its genome. Nor does a genome 'program' a cell. Otherwise, we cell biologists would have a much easier time trying to decipher parts of that mess.

    Basically this is a breakthrough in sequence synthesis technology. There's still a LONG way to go with the rest of the cell, and I personally am not overwhelmingly optimistic about it. Analogue systems are even more of a pain in the ass than digital ones...

  2. Hey PSI - Nice to hear from you again!

    I think that I get what you’re saying about a ‘synthetic cell’ Vs ‘synthetic genome,’ but wouldn’t the entire cell (including cytoplasm, organelles, etc…) be considered synthetic once the ‘Venter product’ has reproduced (perhaps several generations down the line)?

    I realize that they plugged the new/modified genome into the ‘body’ of what had recently been an independently functioning bacterium, but as those pre-existing organelles deteriorate or are no longer expressed as a result of normal metabolic and reproductive processes won’t they be replaced with organelles coded from the synthetic genome?


  3. Venter continues to do things just because he can. He never considers the question "but should it be done." I truly believes his main goal is to see himself on the covers of other magazines and journals. His ego is enormous.

    He has put together an "organism" that has not gone through thousands and thousands of years in the evolutionary pool called nature. This synthetic life form has never been subjected to natural or artifical selection and it is beyond comprehension why he needs to stroke his ego instead of considering the consequences of his actions. He is after the big prize- the Nobel prize, but his recent "scientific" work is not worthy of it. Only his work on shotgun cloning on the Human Genome Project sequencing project is a genuine advance in science and a tool that allows for faster sequencing of an organism's genome.

    Since he works on private funds, there is very little the public can do to stop him from his quest to "create life." It would be nice if some of the well established science journals and professional organizations, such as AAAS, would call him to account for his research. The public should also.