March 20, 2008

Distinguishing Artificial From Natural Is Possible, for Now

Today the mystery of the natural versus the artificial is moving from
mountains and forests down to the microscopic realm. Scientists can now
synthesize DNA from scratch. They regularly add new genes to bacteria,
plants and animals. They are learning how to manufacture whole genomes.
Can we tell the difference between our growing menageries of engineered
organisms and natural ones? A fascinating
new study from scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California shows that we can -- at least for now.


But now imagine a different kind of genetic engineering. Imagine that
some scientists decide to make the bacteria that cause bubonic plague
easier to spread. Imagine that they manage to do exactly that by adding
plasmids carrying a gene from a different pathogen. It would be a lot
harder to determine whether this new strain was the work of humans,
because different species of bacteria will sometimes naturally swap

Read more.

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