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Building the synthetic cell

The BBC reports that researchers, including Craig Ventner of the Human Genome Project, announced that they’ve managed to synthesize a cell’s DNA. This is the “opposite” of mapping DNA: using a genome that’s been mapped, create working DNA and put it in a cell.

According to Ventner, “the new bacteria replicated over a billion times, producing copies that contained and were controlled by the constructed, synthetic DNA.” It’s a big breakthrough — the first step towards custom-engineering life — that could have some dire consequences if not properly regulated.

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The Ethics of Designer Babies

Commercial DNA service, by aprilzosia on Flickr

This episode of BBC World’s Discovery podcast looks at the science which is already allowing parents to choose those embryoes least likely to develop diseases later in life. At first these techniques seem like powerful tools to put in the hands of would-be parents, but since any genetic assessment can only give probability, not certainty, it has the potential to create agonizing choices. And the programme also looks at India, where pale skin is becoming increasingly desirable, especially for girls, and asks if legislation should stop parents from rejecting embryoes for aesthetic rather than medical reasons.

Listen to the episode (streaming audio hosted by the BBC)

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