Visions of Dr. Frankenstein creating his monster came to mind with the news yesterday that artificial life had been "created" in the laboratory. Unfortunately, for the mainstream media hypemeisters, a scientist has tossed cold water upon that bold assertion. And who was the killjoy scientist raining on the MSM parade hyping this event? Why, it was the scientist, J. Craig Ventner himself, who was being credited in the media for being a latter day Dr. Frankenstein as you can see in this San Diego Union-Tribune report:
J. Craig Venter, the La Jolla biologist who played a key role in decoding the human genome, said Thursday that his team has made the world’s first “synthetic cell,” an advance that eventually could help and hurt humanity.
Venter and his colleagues basically figured out how to design a bacterial cell on a computer. Then they used genetic engineering and chemicals that are essential for life to produce an entity that’s novel but not yet a truly living version of anything that occurs naturally.
This “is the first self-replicating species that we have on the planet whose parent is a computer,” said Venter, who was careful to add that he had not created new life from scratch.
Got that? Ventner himself was careful to note that new life had NOT been created.This is made clear when you read the actual details of most of the news stories with misleading headlines. An example is the BBC story with this headline:
'Artificial life' breakthrough announced by scientists
The details of the actual story reveal that something much less than "artificial life" was created in the lab:
Dr Venter told BBC News: "We've now been able to take our synthetic chromosome and transplant it into a recipient cell - a different organism.
But who am I to ruin everyone's excitement over this overhyped "Frankenstein" story? Let us review a few of the misleading but fun headlines such as this from the UK Sun:
'Frankenstein' doc creates life
The UK Daily Mail gave us a special bonus of a doomsday headline:
Scientist accused of playing God after creating artificial life by making designer microbe from scratch - but could it wipe out humanity?
Vanity Fair ventured into the theological realm with a headline that seems to be a putdown of the Almighty:
Mankind Creates First Synthetic Genome, Officially Replaces God
Yes, artificial hype was created in the newsrooms but it appears no artificial life in the laboratory. A Wired story by Carol Zimmer brings us down to earth on this subject:
...We are a long way from playing God. The scientists didn't assemble the fragments of DNA by themselves, nor did they program robots to do so. Instead, they injected the fragments into E. coli, and let the bacteria do the job themselves. Eventually, it turned out that E. coli could only build up a quarter of the genome. The scientists don't quite know why. So they injected those big chunks of Mycoplasma DNA into yeast. Lo and behold, the yeast were able to finish up the job for the scientists. They don't quite know how the yeast did their own biochemical magic either. I would assume that God would have this kind of stuff figured out.
So perhaps an updated Dr. Frankenstein could shout: "HYPE! HYPE! I'VE CREATED ARTIFICIAL HYPE!!!"