Synthia

Mass media have missed something important. It’s called Mycoplasma laboratorium, nicknamed ‘Synthia’. It is the first man-made bacteria, brought to life in May 2010 in the Craig Venter Institute.

A quick, simplified biology lesson. Our DNA builds us by gathering the parts it needs and by tying them together into… well.. us. DNA can copy itself, and thus act on many different places at the same time. That’s why we call it alive.  Nobody knows how the first DNA molecule came into existence, but after that instant, it all seems to have moved fairly rapidly into… well.. us.

DNA looks like a ribbon. It can be cut into pieces which can be glued together again. Nature has been doing this for many years. Taking a single piece of ribbon out here and there, putting another piece in. No rush. Creatures changed this way, slowly adapting to new circumstances, or creating new circumstances that suited them better (that’s not just us, beavers do it too. And many others).

Humans discovered this, and thought: ‘Hey! Wouldn’t it be fun if we took the ribbon, put it in a blender, gathered the pieces and constructed a new living being? ‘Yes, that’d be cool!’ said others ‘we’ll pay that!’ And so they did.

Now, let’s not get arrogant here. These humans have not recreated life, they have re-organized it. But even then, this is big. Think of something strange, have it self-replicate, et voila. That’s where we’re standing.

I don’t know what the precise plans are, but the experiment is being advanced faster than we understand. In the coming decades, there will be more and more very tiny man-made creatures of which no one is entirely sure what they can do. On single cell level, the possibilities are endless.

To try this out was not a democratic decision. The process will not be stopped. Humans are too curious. We will learn. At first, we will learn that creating new beings by reassembling genes is not as easy as it looks, and that over the years, nature has done a pretty good job. Then, we will learn that whichever creation is succesful, is impossible to control. I am most concerned about the lesson that comes next. How strong is this power?

Mutations happen all the time. But humans, now, can shift the basic paradigms of existance on earth. They can alter the codes that define life on this planet. Is the human mind too small for the enormous time and space that is needed to create a succesful being? Give enough monkeys a typewriter and one will accidentally write a novel. But there aren’t enough monkeys. Humans, on the other hand, are helped by computers. Global intelligence will step in. How many tries will it take? What is it she wants with us?

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