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Intelligent Design Research: Proof of concept in 3-10 years say scientists

While they don’t call it intelligent design research… that’s in fact what it is. In the article a scientist is quoted saying once a container (cell wall) is synthesized and nucleotides are added in the right proportions then Darwinian evolution will take care of the rest. Yeah, right. Darwinian processes won’t do jack diddly squat. It’ll require intelligent design every step of the way. Mark my words. ID will be proven in concept and Darwinian evolution will (again) be disproven in concept.

Artificial Life Likely in 3 to 10 Years

Aug 19 11:52 PM US/Eastern
By SETH BORENSTEIN
AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) – Around the world, a handful of scientists are trying to create life from scratch and they’re getting closer.

Experts expect an announcement within three to 10 years from someone in the now little-known field of “wet artificial life.”

“It’s going to be a big deal and everybody’s going to know about it,” said Mark Bedau, chief operating officer of ProtoLife of Venice, Italy, one of those in the race. “We’re talking about a technology that could change our world in pretty fundamental ways—in fact, in ways that are impossible to predict.”

That first cell of synthetic life—made from the basic chemicals in DNA—may not seem like much to non-scientists. For one thing, you’ll have to look in a microscope to see it.

“Creating protocells has the potential to shed new light on our place in the universe,” Bedau said. “This will remove one of the few fundamental mysteries about creation in the universe and our role.”

And several scientists believe man-made life forms will one day offer the potential for solving a variety of problems, from fighting diseases to locking up greenhouse gases to eating toxic waste.

Bedau figures there are three major hurdles to creating synthetic life:

—A container, or membrane, for the cell to keep bad molecules out, allow good ones, and the ability to multiply.

—A genetic system that controls the functions of the cell, enabling it to reproduce and mutate in response to environmental changes.

—A metabolism that extracts raw materials from the environment as food and then changes it into energy.

One of the leaders in the field, Jack Szostak at Harvard Medical School, predicts that within the next six months, scientists will report evidence that the first step—creating a cell membrane—is “not a big problem.” Scientists are using fatty acids in that effort.

Szostak is also optimistic about the next step—getting nucleotides, the building blocks of DNA, to form a working genetic system.

His idea is that once the container is made, if scientists add nucleotides in the right proportions, then Darwinian evolution could simply take over.

“We aren’t smart enough to design things, we just let evolution do the hard work and then we figure out what happened,” Szostak said.

In Gainesville, Fla., Steve Benner, a biological chemist at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution is attacking that problem by going outside of natural genetics. Normal DNA consists of four bases—adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine (known as A,C,G,T)—molecules that spell out the genetic code in pairs. Benner is trying to add eight new bases to the genetic alphabet.

Bedau said there are legitimate worries about creating life that could “run amok,” but there are ways of addressing it, and it will be a very long time before that is a problem.

“When these things are created, they’re going to be so weak, it’ll be a huge achievement if you can keep them alive for an hour in the lab,” he said. “But them getting out and taking over, never in our imagination could this happen.”

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33 Responses to Intelligent Design Research: Proof of concept in 3-10 years say scientists

  1. ““We aren’t smart enough to design things, we just let evolution do the hard work and then we figure out what happened,” Szostak said.”

    Really, how can smart people be so stupid? Essentially, what he’s saying is that human intelligence isn’t as innovative as a mindless, purposeless, unproven, natural process. And what does he expect to happen? Darwin will fly in and wave a magic wand and out pops complexity and increased information?? That’s just plain dumb – dumb, dumb, dumb. Our Universities have failed us.

  2. “This will remove one of the few fundamental mysteries about creation in the universe and our role.”

    That’s my favorite quote.

  3. These guys have got to be on !
    They boldly state that they are going to construct (from scratch no less) something that far surpasses in complexity any machine man has made through concerted effort!?! Can somebody say urinalysis

    “Yeah man give me another toke… Yeah, you see man we just put these fatty acids in there you know man and like let them evolve into a cell wall you know man and then we like throw some dna pieces in there man when we get the fatty acids to build a cell wall you know man and then we like let the evolutionary god build us some rna modular construction molecules with information retrieval you know man and then we like make millions and zillions of dollars holding the world ransom from our killer germs you know man! Ahh yeah man that is some good smoke you got there man.

  4. bornagain77,

    A good protocell design is extremely difficult. It would be simpler to make a bad design, and a flawed design might be attainable in the next decade. If these researchers are actually depending on Darwinian logic, they are headed towards a bad design.

  5. ““We aren’t smart enough to design things, we just let evolution do the hard work and then we figure out what happened,” Szostak said.”

    No it won’t. Scientists have tried for decades to evolve novelty in the lab and it hasn’t worked. Not even a sngle novel enzyme. Why would it be any different for synthetic life?

  6. “”We aren’t smart enough to design things, we just let evolution do the hard work and then we figure out what happened,” Szostak said. ”

    What a slap in the face to all the researchers who probably worked long and hard on this. Anyone with a brain (or some form of consciousness) would consider “creating” man-made life one of the most monumental intellectual achievements in all of history. If this is the best “reward” that researchers can hope for, I would expect the best minds to escape in droves to the private sector (which probably has happened already).

    (I put “creating” in quotations” because this is not really creating from scratch; it’s more like borrowing from what’s already there.)

  7. These guys are truly living in fantasyland. They might as well have aspirations to create the first perpetual-motion machine. The sad thing is that many intelligent, highly educated people have been conned into accepting the biggest get-something-for-nothing scam in the history of science: Darwinism.

    If these guys want a realistic look at what Darwinian mechanisms can do for their concoction, even if they succeed in creating it, they should read The Edge of Evolution.

  8. I’ve had the good fortune to speak at length about this kind of work with Mark Bedau of Protolife, and I can tell you that he fully appreciates the difficulty and problematic nature of this project.

    In fact, one of his main focuses right now is eerily similar to Behe’s work–though from a different angle. Mark has been working for over a decade (if memory serves) on software-based artificial life, but he said that there seems to be an “informational plateau” that his organisms reach fairly quickly. They evolve rapidly, often developing symbiotic or parasitic relationships, but at some point they just basically stop evolving. Of course, since Mark is a committed Darwinist he doesn’t see that as a problem for evolution, just a problem for his model.

    One thing that I admired about him was that while he’s fully aware that he’s giving “aid and comfort” (his words) to ID and Creationism with these results, he is much more concerned about reporting his results fairly and openly, even while some of his colleagues urge him to hush up a bit. My impression of the man is that he is a genius of the highest order and he is fully committed to this project, so I believe that he will succeed. The question is really what he will produce compared to what he puts in.

  9. They should also look at the historical results from corporations like Applied Evolution and others that have tried to evolve novel enzymes. The result? Nada. Nothing. Zippo. Zilch.

  10. This statement is a beaut too!

    Normal DNA consists of four bases—adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine (known as A,C,G,T)—molecules that spell out the genetic code in pairs. Benner is trying to add eight new bases to the genetic alphabet.

    Never mind the fact that no one has even fully deciphered the stunning complexity inherent in the existing DNA we are studying, They want to add more DNA letters to the mixture. What are they thinking, “Well if we add more junk to our junk pile its sure to turn into a 747.”
    That really has to be some good weed them guys are smokin down in Florida!!

  11. COuld someone explain to me how they intend to conduct the research? The moment they establish and set any pre-conditions or states, they’ve introduced design into the mix. How then to say that anything that results is solely the end product of the blind, purposelss process of evolution?

  12. It’s really amazing what you can get away with saying as long as you give a nod to uncle Charlie. Imagine if they had said “We are applying principles of intelligent design to create the first artificial life.”!!! They would be burning at the stake right now.

  13. I predict that artificial life will not exist in 10 years from now nor in a hundred. Maybe the upside of this research will be a thorough debunking of Darwinianism, and eventual recognition of the validity of ID.

    Just imagine in 10 years seeing this headline: “Darwin Wrong. No Artificial Life in Foreseeable Future!” Well, I can dream…

  14. 14

    Reminds me of the time some fool of a college professor said that in twenty years, we’d know everything there is to know about the universe. That was in about ’83 or so.

  15. 15

    Just wish I’d of kept the name of the fella.

  16. Well even if they fail it doesn’t directly prove ID in any way. After all the tried and tested excuse is “we haven’t found out how yet”, and you won’t hear anyone say “we can’t find out how”.

    I don’t expect anything to come out of it in 3-10 years, but by that time this (if failed) prediction would have been long forgotten.

  17. Not too mention he’s taking fatty acid (well the right ones) and ribozymes for granted.

    Anyways, he also says that these fatty acid clumps will some how go and make the rest of the constituents of the cell? HA! Let’s make a note of this and see what kinda excuses they’ll make in 3-10 years.

  18. We can add this to Robert Shapiro’s claim that we would understand the origin of life in the next 5 years. He made that claim last year. 4 years left Shapiro!

    Maybe we could add a countdown to UD like Rush Limbaugh’s “Algore Doomsday Countdown.”

  19. 19

    Artificial life in three to ten years? This remides me of how in the ’60s it was promised that by the ’80s we would have sidewalks that move and cars that drive themselves. Here I am, still having to use my damn legs. Where are my robot cars and sidewalks? Or my robot butlers for that matter? And what ever happened to my star wars lasers? This is just yet another case of same crap different day.

  20. Maybe we could add a countdown to UD like Rush Limbaugh’s “Algore Doomsday Countdown.”

    I second the motion to do this!!

    Should be easy to build a cool countdown clock and stick it on the front page. Who’s gonna do this?

    Don’t forget to include the pertinent quote on the clock to remind everyone why we are counting down.

    Do it!

  21. IF they succeed, won’t that show that the designer used similar methods, i.e. reverse engineering – imitating the design of a previous designer, and that “our” designer, as Behe once suggested, may be dead?

  22. Use your own dirt.

  23. I beg to differ with some of you guys.

    I do not see anything stopping us from creating a life form from existing materials using an artificial genetic string made up of components borrowed from known functioning life forms.

    I think that is what they are talking about.

    It’s like someone making a functional car using parts of a number of different functional cars put together by intelligent agency.

    I think this almost inevitable in the next 5 years and will prove ID to be true.

    All this has nothing to do with a naturalistic origin for life.

  24. id_net

    What you wrote is the closest to my thoughts.

    However, I think these guys are deluded enough to actually believe that random mututation is going to do most of the engineering work for them.

    Craig Ventor is on the winning track to artificial life. He’s making a gigantic inventory of fully sequenced microbial genomes. In it will be, for example, tested and working metabolic systems based on a number of different schemes from extremophiles to human gut bacteria. Material transport, replication, information processing, in all manner of environments using all manner of materials that living systems already do – those all become tested and working components for building custom cells to do our bidding.

    Engineering of lab equipment to assemble custom genomes on a computer screen and without human intervention turning out a live bacteria with that genome in it doesn’t seem that far away. As that process gets faster and cheaper so does the reverse engineering process. Ventor is also focused on this.

    Ventor’s got at least one class of custom cell in mind as a commercial goal – ones that convert sunlight, air, and seawater at high efficiency directly to concentrated chemical energy storage such as alcohol.

    Reverse engineering cells from the top down is what Ventor is doing. To me it’s the obvious way to go. Any engineer involved in this who wants random mutation creeping into his carefully designed custom cell isn’t playing with a full deck. Great pains will need to be taken to prevent random errors from mucking up the works. What the researchers described in the article are doing is more like alchemy than engineering.

  25. Dave;
    You pointed out exactly what I was thinking about. It is very possible to manipulate “existing biological systems” to meet our desired goals. Venter’s work is extremely impressive and points this out. One recent work of his team that comes to mind is “transplanting” a genome of one bacteria type into another bacteria type. They compared it to putting a mac program in your IBM computer system and having it run. I was thoroughly impressed by this development of theirs:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06.....38;emc=rss

    Yet as you point out Dave in their quest for the first “synthetic life” they are carefully controlling the type of DNA information they are going to be putting in the cells to manipulate the “preexisting” cells for the desired result they want. As you pointed out, uncontrolled random mutations will definitely gum up the carefully crafted works of his team! It looks like a very promising line of research. I wish them well in this fascinating venture. Venter’s work screams Intelligently designed whereas the other researchers work screams “deluded drug induced fantasies”
    Yet these other researchers in the article

  26. Let’s recall some history here. Prior to the mid-1800′s, it was believed that organic molecules (compounds obtained from living organisms) had a special property given to them by God, and that man could not duplicate this property and synthesize these same molecules. Wohler put this so-called “vitalist” theory to rest with his synthesis of urea. Now chemists have synthesized virtually every type of organic molecule known to exist naturally and many that don’t.

    Chemists can synthesize a gene on a machine, using totally synthetic chemicals, and insert this gene into a living organism and have it expressed (using existing cellular machinery), giving a protein. This protein can be natural (normal amino acid sequence) or unnatural (mutated). This is known as site-directed mutagenesis, and is a common technique in the study of protein function.

    Now take this one step further. Suppose chemists could synthesize an entire genome, a simple one, given, but a genome. Synthetically, on a machine or using engineered enzymes. Suppose other chemists could synthesize using lipids and cholesterol, a primitive cell membrane, a goal accomplished routinely by people who study cell membranes. If the genome were inserted in this artificial cell, and the appropriate signalling molecules were added, perhaps the DNA would be expressed and the cell could divide. This would be a primitive form of life that would be totally artificial. There are obviously many details that I have left out, but they can and will be addressed.

    So if this were to happen, an artificial cell with a simple genome were to replicate its DNA and divide, then this cell is exhibiting the characterists of a living cell.

    Realize also that this feat has been performed by several researchers at the molecular level. Scientists have created totally synthetic molecules (i.e., starting with chemicals that are non-natural) that can catalyze their own creation.

    What would Wohler think?

  27. To “idnet.com.au”

    Making a car out of spare parts is not a useful analogy. Once you make the car, it is just a car. It won’t metabolize and divide.

    When these researchers make a fully functioning cell by reconstituting the necessary chemicals in the proper fastion, and that cell metabolizes, duplicates its DNA, and divides into two fully functioning daughter cells, they will have created artificial life.

    This will put to rest the claim that there is something special about life that requires a higher power (i.e., God) in order to be created. Since in the artificial case, no higher power was necessary to make it function, it will prove that life is the result of a combination of the appropriate chemicals.

  28. Rocket you state:
    This will put to rest the claim that there is something special about life that requires a higher power (i.e., God) in order to be created.

    IF they accomplish “artificial life” totally without “borrowing” from existing complexity that exists in other life-forms will the claim be laid to rest.
    And even then, I do recall the Theistic claim that we are made in God’s image, Hence we would be expected to mimic God to certain undefined extent.

  29. bornagain77

    Define “artificial life.”

    To me, this means a fully functioning synthetic (i.e., man-made) organism or cell that metabolizes, replicates its DNA, and divides to produce fully function daughter cells, and which was created with chemicals synthesized in the lab. In other words, a living organism that is not derived directly from another living organism.

    Obviously this artificial life form will be DNA-based (i.e., the parts will be the same). That is irrelevant. All life forms that we know of are DNA-based. The point is that it will NOT be derived from another living organism. That is the distinction.

  30. Rocket,
    I would agree with you that if man truly assembled the parts from scratch and then somehow managed to assemble the millions of precisely placed protein molecules and DNA sequences into the cell and then the cell not only comes to life but replicates itself it is indeed artificial life.
    Yet notwithstanding Robot, their is a tremendous amount of intelligence being put into that “first” artificial life. A lot more intelligence than I have as a lot of my friends will gladly tell you. LOL

  31. bornagain,

    Good, we seem to agree on a definition. Most of the proteins would come from transcription/translation of the DNA genome, so you wouldn’t have to make each and every one. Just the critical ones that would get things started.

    The intelligence would come from the collaboration of several of the world’s best research groups. One person isn’t going to do it, and certainly not Steve Benner.

    So my question is this: if artifical life so defined could be created synthetically, and the resulting organism or cell is alive (metabolizing, replicating DNA, dividing to produce functional daughter cells), then does this not prove that life is possible in the absence of direct creation by God?

    Try to avoid arguments that man was created by God, so therefore man has transferred to the artificial cell that special something that makes things alive. This is not a valid argument, as by that same argument you could say that since man was created by God, so that imperfection in man that caused the first sin was put there by God. That would make God’s creation imperfect and hence God imperfect. I think we can agree that God must be perfect.

  32. I think your trying to allude to that transcendent element of consciousness that is apparent in man when you refer to “life”. Whether this transcendent element exists in lower life forms is what is in question. My gut response is that in bacteria it is not. Thus I believe it to be a purely “mechanical” phenomena as far as bacteria are concerned. So “artificial Life” would be possible without the intervention of God on that level as far as Theism is concerned. Yet though you don’t want me to use the “made in God’s image” postulation of Theism, I want to point out that the tremendous amount of information that is being “programmed” into the proposed “artificial cell” is of a transcendent nature. i.e. the complex information has to be inlaid into the material. Information is transcendent by nature and thus can be said to be spiritual by nature. Just as the ink and paper in a book have no inherent information in them that is past the information in the chemical laws they obey. So the principle of natural processes generating CSI by blind random processes has still not been proven in such a scenario as man creating “artificial life”. In fact if such a endeavor did manage such a monumental feat it will will only be done under strict adherence to the Complex information being precisely manipulated and implemented in a very non-random process.
    I think it would be proof of principle that stunning intelligence than of is necessary for life to be created and thus weightier proof of ID’s primary tenet than materialism’s primary tenet.

  33. bornagain,

    I didn’t realize that you thought forms of life other than man were mechanical. I was under the assumption that all life was defined by the three characteristics I’ve stated before. All life is the same. It is all based on the same chemical reactions with DNA as the information carrier and proteins as the functional working machinery. The chemical processes that happen in an amoeba (clearly a living animal) are exactly the same as those happening in humans (similarly a living animal). I don’t think an amoeba has anything resembling consciousness, but this does not change the fact that it is just alive as you are.

    I don’t understand how information can be transcendent. Information is simply knowledge, in the case of DNA, the sequence and structure of proteins. Making DNA of a specific sequence, that is putting information into the DNA, is simply using knowledge gained by observation. We know the genetic code, therefore we can create a protein of any sequence we want by synthesizing the appropriate DNA.

    I don’t see how information can transcend anything or be transcendent. Information exists, it can do nothing else. It can’t change, go away, or become something else. Carbon will have six protons and six neutrons in its nucleus now and forever. This is information. We know it to be true.

    Clearly the process of creating an artificial cell would be non-random. It would be exceptionally ordered and precisely manipulated, just as in the creation of a watch, a car, a computer chip, etc.

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