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Offline Cut Chemist

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Synthetic Bacteria
« on: 24/05/2006 18:37:53 »
My Microbiology professor, Dr. Sizemore, was lecturing the other day about Dr. Craig Ventor.  

http://www.venterinstitute.org/

Dr. Ventor has been one of the leading scientists in the field of genetic engineering for many years.  He developed the process of shotgun cloning for genetic sequencing, and I believe he worked on some of the human genome projectas well.  He has also sequenced many other organisms including many bacteria and fuit flies.  

According to my microbiology prof., now he has sequenced the bacteria with the smallest genome, and he's chopping off DNA bases making the genome smaller and smaller.  Eventually, this will reveal the minimum amount of DNA bases required for life.  After he finds that he will begin to try and synthesize that bacteria using synthetic DNA.  The synthetic bacteria will be used as a template to produce bacteria that would produce renewable resources, such as hydrogen, ethanol and other alternative fuels.  His MO is to create a new synthetic bacteria will be able to be genetically modified to produce nearly any compound imaginable.  

This project is being done in a commercial facility funded by his company.  There are no regulations against trying to "create" an organism, however genetic engineering is highly regulated, and shunned nowadays.  

The idea is very interesting, but the fact that he is synthesizing bacteria reminds me of a Micheal Crichton novel.  Will he be able to create life??  If so will "life find a way???"

I am all for any advances regarding renewable resources, but to me this has biological WMD written all over it.  What would keep him from selling his "model" of a bacteria to the US department of defense???  They could use it produce some sort of fatal, superresistent strain... I think that novel may have already been written.

The technology is there, but is the world ready for that kind of responsibility??  Talk about playing GOD...  it doesn't get much closer than that.

It seems like genetic engineering might work just as well.  Why try to create the bacterial version of frankestein if it would be easier to modify the genetic code of existing bacteria???

I do not have any problem with genetic engineering or sequencing.  It seems like most of it is done with the noblest of intentions, and new breakthroughs are being made daily to enhance the quality of life all over the world.  However the threat is there.  In the wrong hands this kind of technology could spell disaster for many parts if not the world at large.

and this just goes one step further... forget cloning, forget genetic manipulation, forget natural selection.  Lets scrap eveything that evolution has provided, and start over from scratch...  

Its a bit too extreme for me!
...but maybe I'm old fashioned




 

Offline rosy

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Re: Synthetic Bacteria
« Reply #1 on: 25/05/2006 22:37:29 »
Nah... the technology to insert genes (including genes coding for production of toxins and other nasties etc) into pre-existing bacteria has existed for a while now. It's basically a matter of picking the right strain to start with.
I think probably Pandora's box is open on this one. So we might as well get the worthwhile technology out of this if we can.
 

Offline Mjhavok

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Re: Synthetic Bacteria
« Reply #2 on: 05/08/2006 00:29:31 »
Just because something can be used immoral and for want of a better word evil deeds it doesn't mean it should not be developed. As for playing god, I myself don't believe in a divine creator so maybe someone should play him in a movie or something like all other fictional characters are portrayed nowadays. I think Einstein said something along the lines that if he knew his work would end up producing an atomic bomb then we would have been a carpenter. This would probably have made little difference in the end. Someone else would have developed his theories and someone else may have created an atomic bomb, hell maybe the germans would have ended up developing it. In all things human's do there is always a bad seeds. We are after all as the agents in the matrix say "Only Human".
 

another_someone

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Re: Synthetic Bacteria
« Reply #3 on: 05/08/2006 01:25:06 »
As Steven has said, if it can be invented, and the technology is in place to allow someone to make an invention, then the invention will be achieved, if not by one person than by another.

There are many risks concerning genetic engineering, but as Rosy has said, we already know how to manipulate bacterial genome, so this really wont of itself make so much difference.

The problem with biowarfare is not that we cannot yet create dangerous weapons, but that we do not know how to target them properly.  In that respect, the human genome project is maybe more dangerous, particularly with regard to identifying human genome diversity, since this is what will help people to learn how to precisely target new bioweapons.



George
 

Offline Mjhavok

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Re: Synthetic Bacteria
« Reply #4 on: 05/08/2006 01:46:17 »
Most likely some governments are researching bioweapons to kill a particular ethnicity. Why send a bomb or troops into a insurgent cave when all you do is send in a bioweapon that won't even harm your own troops that you send in. Morally troubling, if ever developed
 

another_someone

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Re: Synthetic Bacteria
« Reply #5 on: 05/08/2006 02:50:10 »
quote:
Originally posted by Mjhavok

Most likely some governments are researching bioweapons to kill a particular ethnicity. Why send a bomb or troops into a insurgent cave when all you do is send in a bioweapon that won't even harm your own troops that you send in. Morally troubling, if ever developed



No, you will never be able to use bioweapons in a tactical way like that.

Rather, what you are likely to do is create an infection that is ethnic specific, infect one of your own people as a carrier, and send that person as a tourist to your enemy country, and let the infection take hold over many months.  Bioweapons will not work over time-spans of a few minutes of hours.



George
 

Offline Mjhavok

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Re: Synthetic Bacteria
« Reply #6 on: 05/08/2006 03:29:25 »
Never say never. Perhaps my hypothetical cave would be to large and the bioweapon whatever form it took would die or become inert before it spread enough. What about spores? How long do they survive?

Your idea is even worse, not scientifically I mean by the amount of fatalities it could potentially cause.

Steven
 

another_someone

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Re: Synthetic Bacteria
« Reply #7 on: 05/08/2006 15:18:15 »
quote:
Originally posted by Mjhavok
Never say never. Perhaps my hypothetical cave would be to large and the bioweapon whatever form it took would die or become inert before it spread enough. What about spores? How long do they survive?



The whole purpose of spores is actually to protect organisms in hostile environments (i.e. an organism, such a bacteria, that would naturally die in a hostile environment, will turn itself into a spore, and become a kind of land mine, becoming active again only when the circumstances are right).

The whole point about a spore is that while the naked organism may die in a short period of time, the spore is a kind of hibernation that allows the spore to remain in suspended animation for decades.

The trouble is that bioweapons need to have a carrier, and the bioweapon can only move as fast as the carrier can cause the agent to travel.  The carrier may be human to human contact, or it might be an animal (e.g. a mosquito, or a flee that lives on a rodent), but you do need a vector somewhere.

It is relatively unlikely that you will find a vector in caves, except maybe bats and even they will come out of the cave to feed, and so will spread the agent beyond the bounds of the cave.

You also have to remember that a silent killer that does its job slowly does its job more effectively.  In WWI, mustard gas was one of the deadliest gasses used, not because it was more fatal than other gases, but because it could take several hours before symptoms would appear, so you could cause a lot of people to die before the first person would even raise the alarm that anything was wrong.

quote:

Your idea is even worse, not scientifically I mean by the amount of fatalities it could potentially cause.



Ofcourse that is why bioweapons are classed as weapons of mass destruction.



George
« Last Edit: 05/08/2006 15:25:45 by another_someone »
 

Offline Mjhavok

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Re: Synthetic Bacteria
« Reply #8 on: 06/08/2006 03:34:08 »
Hope I learn about spores next year. Well this year actually lol. I start my second year in September. Can't wait :-D. I think i'll go read some articles just now actually.

Steven
 

Offline phdkso

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Re: Synthetic Bacteria
« Reply #9 on: 13/08/2006 00:23:04 »
Dear Cut Chemist:

Perhaps we should welcome the idea of creating artificial life because that might allow us to create artificial intelligence and considering that human intelligence sucks, based on the state of our planet, perhaps artificial intelligence may be an improvement!

phdkso
 

another_someone

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Re: Synthetic Bacteria
« Reply #10 on: 13/08/2006 01:19:23 »
quote:
Originally posted by phdkso
Perhaps we should welcome the idea of creating artificial life because that might allow us to create artificial intelligence and considering that human intelligence sucks, based on the state of our planet, perhaps artificial intelligence may be an improvement!



Not sure that artificial life and artificial intelligence have anything to do with each other.

On the other hand, if you create something that is so intelligent that it will do things differently from humans, and you give it the power to implement its ideas, you may be quite horrified at the things it decides to do.



George
 

Offline phdkso

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Re: Synthetic Bacteria
« Reply #11 on: 14/08/2006 00:01:44 »
It was supposed to be a bit of a joke and I think we should stop here; however, you made my point - surely we can be quite horrified at the things we are doing these days with our human intelligence!!!!

Take a look at the discussion under bacteriophage on this site. While we know that bacteriophage therapy will cure many antibiotic-resistant superbug infections, we choose to stand by and let patients die while we reinvent an almost 100 year old technology and then we call the subject leading edge biotechnology!! See http://www.bacteriophagetherapy.info [nofollow]

phdkso
 

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Re: Synthetic Bacteria
« Reply #11 on: 14/08/2006 00:01:44 »

 

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