Can Man Create Life?

by John Harbison

Within the field of science, there is a law attributed to Louis Pasteur called the Law of Biogenesis, which states that life arises from pre–existing life, not from non–living material. This law has never been disproved—or has it? A number of news headlines in the past two years have alarmed those who consider themselves Christians because they challenge the idea that only God can create life. What were these headlines? Has science found the secret to creating life?

On May 20, 2010, published an Associated Press article titled “Scientists Create Synthetic Life in Lab.” On June 3, 2010, the Mail Online published an article titled “Scientist Accused of Playing God After Creating Artificial Life By Making Designer Microbe From Scratch — But, Could It Wipe Out Humanity?” The headline “Scientists Create First Artificial Life” was published by on May 20, 2010. The New York Times published an article titled “Scientists Create Artificial Life In Laboratory” on May 21, 2010. These and many more articles have recently come across the wires. Did man create life? Is the Law of Biogenesis disproved? Let’s examine the facts to find out the real truth.

These headlines are the result of laboratory experiments conducted by a science team headed by Dr. Craig Venter at the J. C. Venter Institute. Dr. Venter, a Vietnam War Veteran, has previously worked in sequencing the human genome. In 2005, he founded the private company Synthetic Genomics with the aim of engineering “new” life forms that would produce alternative fuels.

On May 20, 2010, Venter and his team announced the “creation” of a cell controlled by a synthetic genome (synthetic DNA) in a paper published in SCIENCE. Venter calls the results of his experiment a “Synthetic Cell” which was a simple bacterium. Venter considers his efforts as opening the way to creating useful microbes from scratch. Dr. Venter “created” the life–form by synthesizing a DNA code and injecting it into a single bacterial cell. The cell containing the man–made DNA then grew and divided, resulting in a hitherto unseen life–form. He has even named his new critter “Synthia.”

Venter’s process includes assembling small pieces of DNA made from an “inanimate chemicals” technique and joining them together into the largest piece of DNA synthesized so far—a loop, one million units in length. After assembly, the team inserted the loop into a cell of another species of bacteria from which the DNA had been removed. The synthetic DNA proved accurate enough to take over “the bacterium program” and enable it to replicate itself to form a bacterial colony. A “water mark” was inserted into the genome to ensure that Synthia could always be distinguished from other similar bacteria.

Genesis, Chapter 1, explains that God created all life on our planet. The Bible plainly states that God created all the matter and life in the Universe, including bacteria. In Genesis 1:20–24 we read that God created the animals that live in the water, fly over the earth and walk on the land. Genesis 2:7 states that “the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” And I Timothy 6:13 tells us that it is “God who gives life to all things.”

Now that we have heard two sides to the story, was life created in a laboratory? First, we need to understand Venter copied a pre–existing genome. He used the original DNA of a bacteria, copied it, added a water–mark, and then inserted it into a bacterium which had its DNA removed. This cell into which the DNA was inserted was still alive and functioning with all cell organelles outside of the DNA loop intact. The technical achievement to sequence and insert the Synthia DNA is a great achievement, but remember that it was placed into an already living cell. In reality, the new cell, Synthia, is a mimic—a synthesized genome in the body of a natural cell. The analogy of reprogramming a computer with a new operating system is somewhat similar to the process used by Venter. Jim Collins, a bio–engineer at Boston University, is quoted in the New York Times as saying, “My worry is that some people are going to draw the conclusion that [Venter and his colleagues] have created a new life form. It doesn’t represent the creation of life from scratch or the creation of a new life form.”

Dr. Venter did not re–animate a dead organism as in the story of Frankenstein. He did not create a whole cell from scratch. The DNA he assembled could not ‘live’ and reproduce on its own. He did accomplish a technical feat never before performed; but, God alone still possesses the ability to create life.

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