Friday, 21 May 2010

Well done, Craig lad!

It is difficult to see why the faithful are so unhappy about Dr Craig Venter's attempt to play at God by creating life. I mean, anyone who takes a good look at the range of life forms currently cluttering our planet—wombats, vultures, squids, Tories, tapeworms and all the rest of his unsavoury creations—must see that the first (and only, until now) holder of the top life-creator's appointment made a complete hash of the task; it is clear that it is time for someone else to be given a chance to have a go, and a top American geneticist with a neat and modest moustache/beard combo is just the sort of chap who is likely to come up with some much superior life forms, particularly with the financial support that he has secured from ExxonMobil; just think what God could have done if he'd had that kind of backing!

And, of course, he has made a much more sensible choice of raw material; God's attempt to create life "in his own image" was a no-no from the start, as he didn't actually have much of an image at the time. So it is not surprising that he finished up with the jumbled mess that we call Life on Earth. Dr Venter wisely chose to start with a common bacterium, synthesize its DNA, insert the strands into yeast and then into E Coli to make a synthetic genome, add a quotation from James Joyce and transfer the whole thing into an existing bacterium that causes mastitis in goats. It's obvious now, a child can see that this is the way to go, but conceiving it from scratch must have taken great imagination.

Anyway, bingo! We now have a synthetic life form with which we can do wondrous things, in all probability. And of course the boys at the J Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, will be taking precautions to make sure that their little fellows can't get out and cause a nasty outbreak of goat mastitis; still, even this would be less of a menace than the frog infestations, swarms of gnats, festering boils, locusts and all the other horrors which the original creator used to keep his creations properly grateful for his infinite mercy.

An early (unsuccessful) experiment at the J. Craig Venter Institute

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