One of my passions as a youngster was biology, not just human reproductive biology (a passion of most young males of any mammalian species), but real "Biology" biology, meaning the study of Life itself. Biology remains an area of great interest for me.
When it comes to professional Academics, I generally credit hard scientists, especially biologists and physicists and engineers with the respect they deserve as opposed to the social scientists who seem, to me at least, to be little more than lucky hangers-on paid to foment pointless and unproductive strife.
But it sometimes seems as if what I call the "REAL" scientists are so completely immersed in the amazing discoveries and advances in their fields of endeavor that they become effectively severed away from the real world, and so it seems to be with Craig Venter, an otherwise biologist extraordinaire:
Humans will be able to recreate alien life forms and 'print out' organisms using the biological equivalent of a 3D printer in the future, a DNA pioneer has predicted.
Dr Craig Venter, who helped map the human genome, created the world’s first synthetic lifeform, using chemicals and inserting DNA into the cell of a bacteria.He believes scientists will soon be to do the same, designing basic organisms to include features useful in farming or medicine, as well as sending robots into space to read the sequence of alien life forms and replicate them back on Earth.Writing in his latest book, Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life, he says: “In years to come it will be increasingly possible to create a wide variety of [synthetic] cells from computer-designed software.The creation of cells from scratch will open up extraordinary possibilities.”The scientist also predicts in the future machines will be able to analyse the make up of genomes and transmit this through the internet or even space, creating more possibilities in the search for alien life, the Sunday Times reported.He wrote: “The day is not far off when we will be able to send a robotically controlled genome sequencing unit to other planets to read the DNA sequence of any alien microbe life that may be there. If we can . . . beam them back to Earth we should be able to reconstruct their genomes. “The synthetic version of a Martian genome could then be used to recreate Martian life on Earth.”
In 2010 Dr Venter and his team made a new chromosome from artificial DNA in a test tube, transferring it to an empty cell where it multiplied – the definition of being alive.
The multi-millionaire pioneer in genetics compared his work with making a computer at the time, referring to the artificial DNA as the software.
Venter, and men and women like him, often become incredibly productive scientists because they are able to concentrate so intensely on their work and they also seem to possess a unique ability to create a sort of virtual emotional Chinese wall between their scientific work and the real world of human existence. That such a wall helps scientists focus their energies and intelligence, by screening out "noise" is nearly certain, but that benefit too often seems negatively counter-balanced by the crippling of the emotional and ethical cores of those same men and women. Based on Venter's remarks, it seems he is bereft of the ability to imagine why it might be a terrible idea to "recreate Martian life on Earth."
I hope I'm wrong about Venter and his colleagues, but the lessons of history suggest otherwise.