Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Quandary

Quandary column

Synthetic Life or Cellular Machine?

By Michael Cook

The creation of synthetic bacteria will increase the speed with which new organisms can be generated, and reduce the value of animal life to mere chemical devices.

It was described as a scientific earthquake, but Craig Venter was just a fraction more modest in summing up his team’s biotechnology feat in May. His synthetic bacterium was, he said, “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer”.

It certainly was an impressive technology. As they reported in Science, researchers from the J. Craig Venter Institute painstakingly assembled the genome of one species of bacterium and inserted it into another cell. The constructed cell began to function, dividing and growing like a natural cell.

If You’re Not a Criminal, You’ve Got Nothing to Worry About

Image of crime scene

Over-reliance on DNA profiles in crime investigation is just one facet of a growing acceptance of genetic determinism – the assumption that we are our DNA. Credit: Jamie Tufrey

By Michael Cook

When the DNA profiles of innocent people are kept by law enforcement agencies it places them at risk of a lifetime of genetic surveillance.

Michael Cook is editor of the bioethics newsletter BioEdge.

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Plastinated People

By Michael Cook

Exhibits of "plastinated" human remains in garish poses raise issues of human dignity.

Read this article in Australasian Science Magazine (print only).

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