(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘synthetic life

“God help us — for art is long, and life so short”*…

 

The creation of a homunculus, an artificially made miniature human, from an 1899 edition of Goethe’s Faust

Making life artificially wasn’t as big a deal for the ancients as it is for us. Anyone was supposed to be able to do it with the right recipe, just like baking bread. The Roman poet Virgil described a method for making synthetic bees, a practice known as bougonia, which involved beating a poor calf to death, blocking its nose and mouth, and leaving the carcass on a bed of thyme and cinnamon sticks. “Creatures fashioned wonderfully appear,” he wrote, “first void of limbs, but soon awhir with wings.”

This was, of course, simply an expression of the general belief in spontaneous generation: the idea that living things might arise from nothing within a fertile matrix of decaying matter. Roughly 300 years earlier, Aristotle, in his book On the Generation of Animals, explained how this process yielded vermin, such as insects and mice. No one doubted it was possible, and no one feared it either (apart from the inconvenience); one wasn’t “playing God” by making new life this way.

The furor that has sometimes accompanied the new science of synthetic biology—the attempt to reengineer living organisms as if they were machines for us to tinker with, or even to build them from scratch from the component parts—stems from a decidedly modern construct, a “reverence for life.” In the past, fears about this kind of technological hubris were reserved mostly for proposals to make humans by artificial means—or as the Greeks would have said, by techne, art…

Philip Ball digs into myth, history, and science to untangle the roots of our fears of artificial life: “Man Made: A History of Synthetic Life.”

* Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: Part One

###

As we marvel that “it’s alive!,” we might send carefully-coded birthday greetings to John McCarthy; he was born on this date in 1927.  An eminent computer and cognitive scientist– he was awarded both the Turning Prize and the National Medal of Science– McCarthy coined the phrase “artificial Intelligence” to describe the field of which he was a founder.

It was McCarthy’s 1979 article, “Ascribing Mental Qualities to Machines” (in which he wrote, “Machines as simple as thermostats can be said to have beliefs, and having beliefs seems to be a characteristic of most machines capable of problem solving performance”) that provoked John Searle‘s 1980 disagreement in the form of his famous Chinese Room Argument… provoking a broad debate that continues to this day.

 source

 

 

“We mostly don’t get sick. Most often, bacteria are keeping us well”*…

 

E. coli bacteria

Food picked up just a few seconds after being dropped is less likely to contain bacteria than if it is left for longer periods of time, according to the findings of research carried out at Aston University’s School of Life and Health Sciences.

The findings suggest there may be some scientific basis to the ‘5 second rule’  – the urban myth about it being fine to eat food that has only had contact with the floor for five seconds or less. Although people have long followed the 5 second rule, until now it was unclear whether it actually helped.

The study, undertaken by final year Biology students and led by Anthony Hilton, Professor of Microbiology at Aston University, monitored the transfer of the common bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Staphylococcus aureus from a variety of indoor floor types (carpet, laminate and tiled surfaces) to toast, pasta, biscuit and a sticky sweet when contact was made from 3 to 30 seconds…

Read the reassuring details at “Researchers prove the five second rule is real.”

The [Five Second Rule] has many variations, including The Three Second Rule, The Seven Second Rule, and the extremely handy and versatile The However Long It Takes Me to Pick Up This Food Rule.

-Neil Pasricha

* Bonnie Bassler

###

As we waste not so as to want not, we might send synthetic birthday greetings to Ananda Mohan Chakrabarty; he was born on this date in 1938.  A microbiologist with specialties in directed evolution and genetic engineering, he created a new single cell life form, the Pseudomonas bacterium (now called Burkholderia cepacia) while working at G.E.  The microorganism had the had the potential to clean up toxic spills, due to its ability to break down crude oil into simpler substances that could become food for aquatic life (an ability possessed by no naturally occurring bacteria).

Chakrabarty applied for a patent on his creation– the first U.S. patent for a genetically modified organism. (U.S. utility patents had been granted to living organisms before, including two pure bacterial cultures, patented by Louis Pasteur. Chakrabarty’s modified bacterium was granted a patent in the U.K. before the U.S. patent came through.) He was initially denied the patent by the Patent Office because it was thought that the patent code precluded patents on living organisms.   The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, where in 1980 the Justices granted the patent (Diamond v. Chakrabarty)– a decision that paved the way for many patents on genetically modified micro-organisms and other life forms, and catapulted Chakrabarty into the international spotlight.

 source

 

Written by LW

April 4, 2014 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: