Some experts expect an announcement within 3 to 10 years from someone in the now little-known field of "wet artificial life."
That first cell of synthetic life—made from the basic chemicals in DNA— i.e., creating protocells has the potential to shed new light on our place in the universe, this will remove one of the few fundamental mysteries about creation in the universe and our role.
It's going to be a big deal and everybody's going to know about it, we're talking about a technology that could change our world in pretty fundamental ways—in fact, in ways that are impossible to predict.
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.
His idea is that once the container is made, if scientists add nucleotides in the right proportions, then Darwinian evolution could simply take over. It's a cleaver ploy we may not be smart enough to design things, but we let evolution do the hard work and then we figure out what happened.
One scientist 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. Instead of 4 pair, one scientist is trying to add eight new bases to the genetic alphabet.