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.”