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Craig Venter and his team attacked over wide-ranging patent applications

One of the last frontiers with the potential to change the way people around the world live their daily lives is that of genetics. With different bits of DNA and genes scientists are moving towards being able to create artificial organisms in their labs to carry out different sorts of tasks.

The tasks these synthetic organisms may be designed to carry out could be as beneficial as producing medications or a new type of fuel to break us free of our reliance on petroleum to nefarious uses like cobbling together synthetic viruses and pathogens into the sort of super-virus Stephen King envision in his book, The Stand.

One scientist, Craig Venter, says he and his team are on the verge of creating an artificial organism, and some rumors say that his team has actually created the organism and is merely waiting for a scientific paper to be published to reveal their work.

Venter says the artificial organism would be simple, consisting of only a few hundred genes, yet he goes on to tell Business Week, “it will be one of the bright milestones in human history, changing our conceptual view of life.”

Venter also stands to make fantastical sums of money with patents that he and his company have filed that are generating lots of controversy. Venter imagines creating organisms covered by these patents worth billions or trillions of dollars.

The ETC Group, a watchdog organization in Canada, attacked Venter for his wide-ranging patent applications accusing him of trying to create a “Microbesoft” monopoly of synthetic biology. However, many feel that if Venter’s research can break us free of our reliance on polluting petroleum fuels the risk is worth the gain.

However, even ETC feels that Venter's discovery will be more important than the discoveries of scientists who have cloned animals, like the Korean team who cloned a dog in December of 2006.

The ability to create synthetic organisms also has a potentially dark and lethal side as well where terrorist groups could buy DNA strands they can combine to create lethal pathogens to use as weapons. David C. Magnus, Stanford University’s center for Biomedical Ethics director, tells Business Week, “There are plenty of people lying awake worrying about this.”

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By Fnoob on 12/14/2007 4:10:24 PM , Rating: 5
“There are plenty of people lying awake worrying about this.”

RE: Lunesta?
By FITCamaro on 12/14/2007 4:16:06 PM , Rating: 3
Liquor is far cheaper.

RE: Lunesta?
By helios220 on 12/14/2007 4:46:39 PM , Rating: 5
Liquor is far cheaper.

Clearly wicked all-night benders are the only scientific (and natural!) cure* to insomnia.

*Side effects include vomiting, nausea, liver disease, eating Taco Bell, brain cell loss, doing fat chicks, high fives...

RE: Lunesta?
By Vanilla Thunder on 12/14/2007 5:35:42 PM , Rating: 5
*Side effects include vomiting, nausea, liver disease, eating Taco Bell, brain cell loss, doing fat chicks, high fives...

All of these things are better than side effects like: loose and darkened stool, erectile disfunction, inability to ejaculate, nervous sweating, uncontrollable bladder functions, and internal bleeding.

Show me the Taco Bell and the fat chicks. I'm on it.


RE: Lunesta?
By porkpie on 12/14/2007 10:07:15 PM , Rating: 3
I don't know, I think I'd prefer internal bleeding and bladder disfunction to a night of fat chicks and Taco Bell...

RE: Lunesta?
By jtemplin on 12/14/2007 11:37:51 PM , Rating: 2
Lol but vanilla...imagine if alcohol was prescribed. I can't imagine the horrible detailed side-affect list it would have. It would be probably be a good deterrent to college freshmen. At my school there is a UNIV100 "welcome to the university" class. Just distribute the 5 page list of side affects and see the change in drinking related 911 calls etc...

RE: Lunesta?
By aharris on 12/14/2007 4:18:21 PM , Rating: 2
Couldn't have said it better myself.

By excrucio on 12/14/2007 4:18:47 PM , Rating: 2
I find this really awesome, yet I fear the consequences.

Although we will save lives, we will also ruin many. With each new creation we are only harming ourselves. With the creation of A bombs and H bombs we killed thousands and fought the bad side. But was that good or bad?

Creating artificial organisms. One could go on to kill cancer cells...on the other hand is malicious people creating to harm others. Then again a mind of criminal never works correct they would only be killing them selves, except...Last.

It's a though decision the humans must take huh.

RE: Hmm
By Adonlude on 12/14/2007 4:33:59 PM , Rating: 5
The number of computer viruses created each year is a testament to the number of people out there who wish to do harm on a large scale. Just imagine how this will tranlsate to a time when we are able to program the biological computers we live in (our bodies). I am not looking forward to having to inject myself with Microbsoft SP1 and weekly updates from Neural Anti Virus while having to eat extra food to fuel all the unnecessary processes running in my background.

RE: Hmm
By dice1111 on 12/14/2007 5:37:15 PM , Rating: 2
Wow... You totally made my day.

RE: Hmm
By rdeegvainl on 12/16/2007 4:34:25 AM , Rating: 2
But someone will use it as a weight loss CURE ALL.

RE: Hmm
By geddarkstorm on 12/14/2007 4:51:03 PM , Rating: 2
None of this is as easy as it sounds (or as the article makes it sound). From my understanding of what they've been doing, they've basically destroyed a bacteria's normal chromosome and replaced it with a totally artificial one to hijack the cell; so it isn't from scratch, but it is truly transforming it into a man-made artificial organism. However, you certainly can't just throw DNA "off the shelf" into it and have it work, hence why this, if he succeeds, will be such a massive milestone. It is incredibly hard due to all the interplay and immensely complex molecular cross talk that goes on in cells to regulate gene expression and allow survival/growth/replication that must be set up just perfectly right to work; so basically these things will be very fragile organisms.

Now, they could be made to do cool things when taking genes from many different loosely related bacterial species and throwing them all together into our man made chromosomes (which is pretty much what Venter is doing already, if I understand correctly what his lab is up to), such as detoxifying soil (since there are bacteria that do that), or producing hydrogen (as, again, there are those that do that). We can't make de novo genes however, we can only use what already exists due to the fact that we still cannot look at a DNA sequence and tell the structure and function of the protein therein encoded.

It's going to take decades to get this stuff to any mass level of production and practicality, and it won't be a panacea, but only applicable to certain applications. I would never want to use them to try to take out human cells of any type, even cancer, as mutations will always happen and it'll be far easier for these artificial things to turn nefarious than to keep them doing what we want. Finally, though we could inadvertently destroy the planet's ecology with super artificial bacteria if we aren't careful, it's still very unlikely. They'll be pretty fragile creatures unless we purposefully make them ungodly robust, and even if they mutate, there'll be things out there mutating in response to deal with, prey on, or out compete them.

Ender's Game
By Sanity on 12/14/2007 4:51:47 PM , Rating: 2
There is a book series called the Ender series, in which a virus is created (built) that infects the entire population of a planet in an extremely short time. But when this virus infects the people, it re-arranges their DNA, turning off the switch for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that had been bread (or engineered - I don't remember) into the population.

I'm sure someone will find uses for technology like this other than killing everyone. Hell, maybe we'll end up with a virus that rejuvenates old DNA, letting people live longer. Just what this wonderfully overpopulated planet needs huh? Can't wait.

RE: Ender's Game
By Master Kenobi on 12/14/2007 7:40:50 PM , Rating: 2
More like using it to provide a secondary immune system that can take down Aids, and super viruses.

RE: Ender's Game
By AmbroseAthan on 12/15/2007 1:00:45 AM , Rating: 2
Am I the only one who saw "I Am Legend" today, or read the book? First thing I thought about when I saw/read this article.

RE: Ender's Game
By ZaethDekar on 12/15/2007 8:31:24 PM , Rating: 2
I saw it at a midnight showing with my girlfriend, and I have to agree. I just wish they went more indepth on how the 'cure' mutated them into night stalkers.

Poor puppy.

Artificial Orgasm?
By EntreHoras on 12/14/2007 5:04:19 PM , Rating: 3
Je je... I misread the title and... I rush to click on it.

Artificial Organism is a more profound topic.

RE: Artificial Orgasm?
By borowki on 12/14/2007 5:41:02 PM , Rating: 2
LOL, I did the same thing.

RE: Artificial Orgasm?
By Hawkido on 12/14/2007 5:58:09 PM , Rating: 2
I think I've had one of those...

Does it involve silicon and styrofoam peanuts?

Yeah yeah
By munim on 12/14/2007 4:42:31 PM , Rating: 2
I'm sure it's nothing like what they're cutting it out to be.

RE: Yeah yeah
By geddarkstorm on 12/14/2007 4:56:11 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly, it isn't. But, it is still a massive leap in our understanding of what it takes to keep a cell going, if he succeeds that is. It's really all part of the attempt to find the minimal gene set for life, which will greatly benefit our knowledge of biology to find and figure out. Being able to make your "own" organisms from the genes of many others will allow all sorts of awesome research tools to develop. But, otherwise, this stuff isn't nearly as "OMG! END OF THE WORLD!" as it is sounding like here. It isn't very practical, has tons of problems and limitations (as any living organism does, let alone one cobbled together instead of intricately developed to its nitch naturally), and the truly "real life" revolutionary event that has yet to come will be when we can look at DNA and immediately know what the protein made will be, how it will be structured, and what it will do. Once we can do that, then we can really change our lives fundamentally. Until then, it's great steps forward, but not earth shattering.

RE: Yeah yeah
By grath on 12/15/2007 6:20:00 PM , Rating: 2
Id like 85 liters of bio-mimetic gel and a side of onion rings.

By SiliconAddict on 12/14/2007 7:01:26 PM , Rating: 2
I would find it highly amusing if patents ended up being the downfall of mankind. Read: Some potential discovery for a disease was hindered because of a patent, and it lead to the deaths of millions.

RE: Hmmm
By SiliconAddict on 12/14/2007 7:03:30 PM , Rating: 2
Or billions.

RE: Hmmm
By Ringold on 12/14/2007 8:26:01 PM , Rating: 2
Realistically speaking, if millions were in immediate risk, two things might happen:

1) If the company doesn't have any additional production capacity, it'd let others make it in return for royalties.

2) If the above didn't happen in a satifactory way, democratic governments would have popular support in declaring open season on making the drug.

Fun to poke at patents, but the free market has mechanisms to deal with many things and can come up with new ones quicker then government. Government's only mission is to survive, after all, not innovate to make profit.

We're not all dead just because only one plant in Switzerland can make Tamiflu, for example. Besides, if a pandemic of flu hit tomorrow, wouldn't matter if it were off patent or not, the first wave would be long since dead before fresh product could hit the shelves anyway.

By eman7613 on 12/14/2007 4:33:16 PM , Rating: 3
This could have been written much better, its very unclear as to why there is a dispute about the patents.

What I think was said, correct me if other wise, is that he is filling for numerous, very broad & general patents, in an attempt to have total control over the field.

RE: Unclear
By Sleeperman on 12/16/2007 10:47:14 PM , Rating: 2
Agree; thankfully, the hyperlinked Business Week article sheds a bit more light. This is what used to be called "genetic engineering" taken to the next level. Entrepreneurism is inevitable in this field, for better or worse.

By arazok on 12/14/2007 9:50:59 PM , Rating: 2
In other news: Microsoft and Microbesoft completed a corporate merger today, resulting in a man eating computer virus that will likely monopolize all of humanity.

RE: Microbesoft?
By onwisconsin on 12/14/2007 10:30:15 PM , Rating: 2
It would probably crash before it took over all humanity


By Screwballl on 12/15/2007 1:33:43 PM , Rating: 2
So at what point do we start discriminating based on altered genetics?

RE: Gattaca
By ZaethDekar on 12/15/2007 8:28:51 PM , Rating: 2
I was thinking of that as well. Very interesting movie, and one of my favorites.

Pretty soon the 'natural' people will be the outcasts.

A pharmaceutical's dream
By PeterPumpkinEater on 12/15/2007 8:35:40 PM , Rating: 2
Isn't it every pharmaceutical's dream to be able to create a virus that they already have a cure for and everyone will need? Just another way to milk the masses of their hard earned money...

RE: A pharmaceutical's dream
By AnotherGuy on 12/15/2007 9:33:03 PM , Rating: 2
We already know that since the Mission Impossible 2 movie

Introduction of new organisms
By paydirt on 12/17/2007 10:12:07 AM , Rating: 2
So when has man's introduction of an organism into a system actually been "a good thing"?

For example, in New Zealand, there were no land mammals when it broke off from the land mass. The kiwi bird then became a walking forager because there were no mammals as competition (or predators).

Possums were added to New Zealand for cheap fur, then they added scoats to kill the possums because there were no predators to kill the possums and the possums were eating too much vegetation. The scoats killed the kiwi bird to near extinction...

So when has man's introduction of an organism into a system actually been "a good thing"?

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