Immortal Synthetic Organisms

Synthetic organisms brought to you by Darpa. The organization, according to an article in Wired Magazine’s Danger Room pentagon-looks-to-breed-immortal-synthetic-organisms-molecular-kill-switch-included has set aside $6 million dollars in the budget into a project called BioDesign that “Darpa is looking to re-write the laws of evolution to the military’s advantage, creating “synthetic organisms” that can live forever — or can be killed with the flick of a molecular switch.”.

Darpa is dabbling in a field known as Synthetic Biology. This is a new area of biological research that combines science and engineering in order to design and build (“synthesize”) novel biological functions and systems. Darpa’s goal with this project is to eliminate the randomness or evolution by engineering an organism.Part of the plan is to “bolster cell resistance to death” by the use of fortified molecules.

To keep the organism from being swayed by the enemy, Darpa plans to build loyalty right into the DNA. There is also a plan for a “kill switch” so that if the organism *does* get out of hand, they can eliminate it before it kills everyone. Now normally this idea would be out of reach. However, as part of their budget, they are also spending ” $7.5 million to “increasing by several decades the speed with which we sequence, analyze and functionally edit cellular genomes.”.

Darpa is missing one vital clue. NYU biology professor David Fitch says, “Evolution by selection is nota random process at all, and is actually a hugely efficient design algorithm used extensively in computation and engineering,” Even if they DO manage to overcome the time issue for sequencing genomes and the evolutionary issue, there is still cell death. Current measures have only increased lifespan in rats by 20%.

But suppose gene therapy makes major strides, and Darpa does manage to get the evolutionary science right. They’ll also have a major ethical hurdle to jump. Synthetic biology researchers are already facing the same questions, as a 2009 summary from the Synthetic Biology Project reports:

The concern that humans might be overreaching when we create organisms that never before existed can be a safety concern, but it also returns us to disagreements about what is our proper role in the natural world (a debate largely about non-physical harms or harms to well-being).


Cloning Neanderthals

According to an article from Fox News, cloning Neanderthals to create healthy, living specimens could become a reality 944NqQ Of course years ago when Jurassic Park first came out, scientists were discussion the possible reality of cloning dinosaurs. Now, thanks to the incredible increase in computing power over the last few years, sequencing genomes for such a project is becoming a real possibility according to Archaeology Magazine.

Cloning is still an inexact science, however. Restoring the DNA of a specimen tens of thousands of years old faces the challenges of chemical changes, breakdown of the biological matter and a myriad of possible contaminants.

Even if those challenges can be overcome, the question still remains: Should this be done? If so, to what end? If Neanderthals were brought back, would they qualify for human rights? If there were colonies of them, how would they support themselves and their families? Would Geico be sued for hate speech or would they be the major employer for Neanderthal kind?

What do you think? Are Neanderthals close enough to us to be considered to have human rights? Would we have living vignettes in natural history museums? What effect would Neanderthal tribes have on our world today? On Religion and Creationism?

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Darwinism vs Intelligent Design

I want to start by saying that I know just enough about both Darwin’s theory of evolution and Intelligent Design to get myself in trouble. I’m hoping that my ideas and comparisons of the two will kick-start a discussion here.

What I know about Darwin’s theory: Charles Darwin, after visiting the Galapagos Islands, theorized that animals changed over long periods of time through what he termed “natural selection”. Natural selection, as I understand it, is that a dominant trait is sustained and reproduced over time while non-dominant traits like a vestigial tail, slowly cease to be because it is no longer needed. Other scientists took this theory and ran with it extending it to ALL living creatures.

What I know about Intelligent Design: From watching Ben Stein’s documentary I came to the conclusion that Intelligent Design is an offshoot or step up from creationism. Creationism states that the Judaeo-Christian god created the earth and everything on it in seven calendar days. Intelligent Design theorizes that everything is so very complex that there must be some intelligent designer or architect that either started it all or designed it. Whether that designer is god or something else, no one will say. Apparently if it’s not god it’s “something”.

Intelligent design is a bit vague. It also doesn’t seem to show a great deal of testable evidence to support the theory that “something” created the world and all life on it. I did once hear that fossils were put here to test our faith and give us something to think about but no dinosaurs actually existed.

As for Darwinism, I understand that the theory is considered flawed. In what respect, I am not educated enough about it to really understand. I do know that Darwinism is a jumping off point for the theory of evolution that we have today. In fact, evolution is so widely accepted that it is no longer called a theory.

I think I understand where the ID people get stuck. They seem to think that because Darwin’s theory might have been flawed, the entire idea of evolution is either wrong. It’s a bit like throwing the baby out with the bath water in my opinion. With that in mind they get bogged down with the idea that other scientists have refined Darwin’s ideas and evolved them, for want of a better term, into what we know as evolution today.

I think where evolutionists get bogged down is that the idea of intelligent design goes against how scientists are trained to think. Since ID people believe that complexity = a designer, scientists hear, ” Correlation MUST equal causation!”. Which is the total opposite of a scientific method. So occasionally you get some very frustrated people whose head just explodes.

ID people are seeking to put order to chaos. The idea that everything was just a great big happy accident IS downright frightening for some. They’re trying to make sense of things that sometimes are just beyond our comprehension at this point in human development. Humans have an overdeveloped sense of pattern recognition. It served us well in much earlier times but now we see things like the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s human nature.

What are your thoughts? Is there a compromise? How would it work?

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed 2

Ben Stein hosts this documentary which “examines the criticisms and hostilities that exist in today’s scientific field (both academic and professional) towards peers and journalists who subscribe to or even entertain the perspective of Intelligent Design in science”.

I have unfortunately failed to make it all the way through this film as of this writing. At the one hour mark, I set it aside for the time being. The cinematography and editing make it extraordinarily difficult to follow. The interviews with such notables as PZ Meyers pharyngula and Richard Dawkins along with Intelligent design proponents at The Discovery Institute and more are interspersed with black and white film clips from what appears to be the early years of the Berlin Wall. There are other nonsensical clips inserted to act as confirmation of a point that had just been made by an interviewee.

In all honesty this looks like something a first year film student would throw together the night before a project was due while he was still high. Now IF you can get past that, the movie asks a valid question.

According to the narrative, a group of scientists, teachers and a journalist have all either been fired, censured or generally had their careers ruined for bringing up the question of Intelligent Design. Details are sketchy as to the content that led to the censure/firing, etc. The film indicates that in the cases shown, merely mentioning Intelligent Design or writing about it led to the firings. IF this is the case, why were these people censured so severely?

In the film, the main argument for creationism seemed to be that since a single cell is so complex, there must have been a designer. Most of those interviewed shied away from the idea that the designer was the Judaeo Christian god. They instead asked that the concept that “something greater than ourselves” be investigated as a possible theory for the origin of life.

It seems a reasonable request until you consider that they can’t or won’t even define what that “something” might be. They are simply theorizing that because everything is so complex that it could not possibly have happened by chance. Their example of why it couldn’t was an animation of a guy and a bunch of slot machines.

Like I said…stoned first year film student.

I’m bothered by the idea that these people supposedly all lost their jobs and careers, or nearly so, because they discussed an alternative idea. The makers of this film took pains to equate the censures and firings with Nazi Germany. Obviously an extreme example. It poses the question, however, “At what point does freedom of speech cease to be free?’. I hope someone will investigate this further and find out why these people were treated like this..