ProtoLife will develop evolutionary chemistry with the long-range goal of creating artificial cells from nonliving raw material, and programming them with desired chemical functionality.
From the New Scientist:
YOU might think Norman Packard is playing God. Or you might see him as
the ultimate entrepreneur. As founder and CEO of Venice-based company
ProtoLife, Packard is one of the leaders of an ambitious project that has in its
sights the lofty goal of life itself. His team is attempting what no one else has
done before: to create a new form of living being from non-living chemicals in
Breathing the spark of life into inanimate matter was once regarded as a
divine prerogative. But now several serious and well-funded research groups
are working hard on doing it themselves. If one of them succeeds, the world
will have met alien life just as surely as if we had encountered it on Mars or
Europa. That first alien meeting will help scientists get a better handle on what
life really is, how it began, what it means to be alive and even whether there
are degrees of "aliveness". "We want to demonstrate what the heck life is by
constructing it," says Packard's business partner and colleague Steen
Rasmussen, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. "If
we do that, we're going to have a very big party. The first team that does it is
going to get the Nobel prize."
Although the experiments are still in the earliest stages, some people,
especially those with strong religious beliefs, feel uneasy at the thought of
scientists taking on the role of creators. Others worry about safety - what if a
synthetic life form escaped from the lab? How do we control the use of such
Finding a way to address these worries will have benefits beyond helping
scientists answer the basic questions of life. The practical pay-offs of
creations like Rasmussen's could be enormous. Synthetic life could be used
to build living technologies: bespoke creatures that produce clean fuels or
help heal injured bodies. The potential of synthetic organisms far outstrips
what genetic engineering can accomplish today with conventional organisms
such as bacteria. "The potential returns are very, very large - comparable to
just about anything since the advent of technology," says Packard. And there
is no doubt that there is big money to be made too.
Is this a Frankenstein (or Frankensteen) thing?
Evidently universities are involved too.
What will we tell the creationists? How can "pro-life" people be against this?
This is going to be interesting if this gets realized, and I suspect it will pretty soon.