Humanist Symposium #14 + Science Tidbit

The latest iteration of the Humanist Symposium, # 14 to be exact, is up over at Countries Beginning With I. Check it out. Lot’s of good reading there. Ignore the advertisement for the movie “Expelled”. 8)


Also, in the “interesting developments in science” Department, National Geographic has an article describing how geneticists have created the first synthetic genome. Apparently they have stitched together the genome of the smallest free-living bacterium, Mycoplasma genitalium.

The new work is an important second step in a three-step process to the creation of synthetic life, said research leader Hamilton Smith, a biologist and Nobel laureate at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland.

The first step, reported last year by the same team at Venter’s institute, was the successful transplantation of a genome from one species of bacteria into another, effectively switching the bug’s identity.

“The third step, which we’re working on now, is to take the chemically synthesized DNA, which is in the test tube, and get it into a bacterium where it can take over and produce a synthetic cell,” Smith said.

Coincidentally, this is related to the first story I reported on a few days ago, in Keeping Up With Science.

Once they have created a synthetic copy of the bacteria, scientists can begin to eliminate genes to determine which are essential. Such an accomplishment would then allow scientists to create synthetic life-forms that may one day produce biofuels, clean up toxic waste, and fight global warming. (Related: “Gene-Altered Plant, Tree Can Suck Up Toxins” [October 15, 2007].)

Read the article to find out how e. coli and brewers yeast played a part in the process. And then, be amazed:

By 2012, he added, the technology should exist to routinely design and construct genomes of any bacteria or single-celled organism with a membrane-bound nucleus.

“Which also means,” he said, “that it will be possible to construct some mammalian chromosomes.”

For all you Christians who think science is bunk, and that Jurassic Park was science fiction, think again. The Bible is passé and the world is moving past you.

21 thoughts on “Humanist Symposium #14 + Science Tidbit

  1. Well, this offers a couple of solutions to global warming via greenhouse gases.

    Design an organism that can eat CO2 and methane, turning them into oxygen and something else.

    Or design an organism that wipes out all the humans.

    Or eats up all the oil and gas left in the ground.

  2. This bodes extremely well for a new golden age of germ warfare. The biologically advanced countries will have the “bomb.” Of course, if creationists keep winning posts on school boards and ignorant politicians can stop scientific research with a good sound bite, America may no longer be one of those countries by 2012.

  3. I was going to post on this you goddamned atheist! Since you beat me to it, I’ll just add this food for thought. Venter is getting very close to creating an artificial species. However, it’s still a ways off from “creating life” as is talked about in a very interesting discussion HERE.

  4. By the way, there are some very legitimate concerns (re: Ric and Ex’s comments) about creating artificial germ species. What happens if one is created that adversely effects humans (basically, they are working on a VIRUS right now) and we have – what exactly? – in terms of natural immunity? Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not being the least bit hysterical about this. If I can think these thoughts, so will they. Science is not our enemy, but sometimes people with financial motives can be in their haste to MARKET something that science comes up with.

  5. I saw Venter on the Colbert report a few months ago. It was a pretty good interview in which Colbert actually let Venter do a fair bit of talking.

  6. If we apply NeoConservative Bushian logic to these developments, we should soon hear the White House declare that the United States will pre-emptively attack any country that has knowledge of genomic modification and creation. That of course would include any country whose citizens can read this publicly available material.

  7. Frank Herbert, (of Dune fame) wrote a book which I read many years ago, the premise of which was either the accidental development of, or the spontaneous creation of, (I can’t remember which) a virus that attacked only women, and killed them. The world lost the entire population of women, save one girl they put in a sealed tank, to insure her non-contact with the virus. It was called “The White Plague”, I think.

    I imagine with genetic engineering such as in this article, that type of thing stops being science fiction.

  8. I guess I have become, officially, an old fart. I am all for progress. I like progress. But the idea of genetically altered viruses just scares the shit out of me.

    I consider myself economically liberal, socially and politically progressive, and (somewhat) scientifically literate. I believe (and by believe, I mean that, based upon the past 150 years of scientific discoveries, I believe that the continued specialization and refinement of the various disciplines will continue and (most likely) accelerate) that science and technology will (most likely) provide the means to escape (or alleviate) our current environmental predicaments. But (when I read stories such as this) I can understand the Luddite anti-technoligical and anti-scientific reaction of many people. Perhaps science can, in rare and isolated circumstances, go too far.

    I guess I can accept genetic alterations (intentional) on a macro-scale. Engineering trees to deal with toxic wastes sounds like a pretty good idea. Even engineering bacteriae to perform the same functions sounds like a good idea in a very limited set of circumstances. But designing a virus to permanently alter the genome of a larger animal frightens me (and with two teenagers, I don’t frighten easily).

    Great post. Scary in the potentialities, though.

  9. (((Billy))), (I just really wanted to DO THAT ) love the “new look)).

    I hope I didn’t sound like I fear science. I’m with you 100%. Obviously both good and bad can RESULT from science, but it’s not the science that is bad – it’s what people do with it. It’s both our greatest fear and our best hope. Whether humans exist in 500 years will be because of science – either way.

  10. your buddy ebon has just banned another theist because that theist was embarrassing to theists! not to mention really really bad for the gene pool! ebon then even deleted the posts which showed how stupid the theist is, out of concern for his reputation! and three for the hat trick! no wonder there are no theists, nada, zero, zilch, none at ebons blog! (except of course all of those commenters who enjoy debating people of intelligence and erudition, unlike myself) how do you atheists sleep at night knowing that there are silly, supercilious theists like me bouncing around the internet! I have two earned doctorates, however, I have no idea what the word “debate” means, and yet, despite my obvious limitations, I am not afraid to look stupid (hence this comment on your unrelated blog), so why do so many of YOU put up with us? It’s because I’m not worthy, isn’t it? I’m so ashamed. My apologies to the humans of our species!

    [note: as god of this blog, I have exercised my prerogative to edit all posts for clarity, including those of trolls like Mr. katz.


  11. Todd, maybe because the type of debates YOU are referring to are over (and boring). And despite your grandiose claims of intelligence and debate skills (even here, where you aren’t even actually involved in a “debate”) you can’t help yourself from falling into the most simple logical fallacy of all time – ad hominem. You are a flea, not a predator. Just go away now.

  12. John: Long ago, in the Dilbert cartoons, Scot Adams created a three or four day character (a cat) and had him come through the strip. He planned it to be just a one theme joke. He got lots of email asking him for more ‘Catbert.’ He figured if his fans spontaneously named a bit part character, he should keep him. Over at No More Hornets, I noticed that I am listed under the “frequent poster” section as (((Billy))) and I decided if the blog owner renames me, who am I to deny the internet reality? Its not as if I haven’t changed my moniker before, right?

    And I didn’t think it sounded like you fear science. I don’t. I do fear the ways that authoritarian and delusional people can use the technology derived from said research.

    Todd: Do you want a pitty party? Seriously. You have two (by your own admission) doctorates. Congratulations on that. I have just a BA in history and I would love to have the time and money to persue advanced degrees. I would think that (and this based upon my limited experience (which did included defending my senior thesis before my entire history department) the rules of proper engagement within an argument would be ingrained by this point. All I ask (and I can’t speak for anyone else (though I do think many would agree with me)) is that when one of us points out a leap of logic which does not follow, or follows circular reasoning, please do not take it as an ad hominem attack. I will insult (well, not insult, but at least point out the inconsistencies) what I consider to be factual or logical errors. I will not insult the poster (maybe when (make that if) I create my own blog, I will reconsider this). That said, how does what someone do on another blog make you unworthy?

    SI: I like the flea / predator analogy. Analogies are almost always suspect, but they can be quite effective.

  13. Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man, at the pond in Auschwitz prison camp, squeezing the mud between his fingers…

    “It is said that science will dehumanise people and turn them into numbers. That is false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.

    “Science is a very human from of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known, we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error, and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: ‘I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken’.

    “I owe it as a scientist to my friend Leo Szilard, I owe it as a human being to the many members of my family who died at Auschwitz, to stand here by the pond as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.”

  14. Ric: Absolutely beautiful. What a perfect set of quotes illustrating the relationship between man, science and Truth. I hereby award you the second Gurney Halleck Award for the Perfect Quote.

  15. Hit Submit too soon. After the title of the award is supposed to come a quote: “Someday I will find you without a quotation, and you shall seem naked.” Dule Leto of Arrakis

  16. @ (((Billy))) (damn that’s fun)!

    Ex is great with christening man, beast and objects. Where do you suppose “Lifeguard” and “Evo” got their genesis?

    @ Ric – very nice. Perfect, in fact.

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