Tallis on synthetic life

In: Uncategorized

23 May 2010

Raymond Tallis, writing in yesterday’s Times (London), sounds a cautionary note over last Thursday’s claims of the creation of artificial life in the laboratory:

“The challenge of creating genuinely artificial life is much greater than that of getting new DNA to hitch a ride in existing cells. The enormous complexity of living cells — with their multitudes of interacting organelles, their exquisitely folded smart membranes and their mind-bogglingly complex signalling systems — makes the task of genuinely synthesising new living matter unimaginably difficult.”

He also makes a powerful argument against those who contend that such research goes “against nature”:

“Nature is against us. If this seems disrespectful, recall that nature regards you as expendable, would prefer a 99 per cent infant mortality rate to get on with its business of natural selection more efficiently, and has no truck with most of the nonsense that fills our lives — with the sort of stuff that makes our lives longer, more comfortable and richer in ways that nature recks not. Even the greenest of us can manage only little arias of “organic living” before we retreat gratefully to “unnatural” human existence — wearing clothes, eating uncontaminated food, readings, books and, yes, worshipping nature. So please don’t appeal to Mother Nature as an exemplar of benignity or as a guide to what we should or should not be doing.”