The things we can do nowadays

Review of:
Marguet, P., Balagadde, F., Tan, C., You, L. (2007) Biology by design: reduction and synthesis of cellular components and behavior. Interface 4: 607-623. full text

Intelligent Design proposes that some facets of life came about through conscious design, rather than blind evolution.  I think one way we can understand how this could have happened is to look at how humans have designed things.  Yes, we will have done things in a different way to the Creator, but we can still gain some insight.

This paper reviews the state of the art in synthetic biology – tweaking bacteria and yeasts to become factories producing whatever chemicals we desire.  There are several reasons for wanting to do this – the production process should be greener (because less noxious chemicals are needed), complex drugs and proteins can be manufactured, micro-organisms that can digest a wider range of sugars can be used to produce alcohol (for renewable energy), and perhaps even for manufacturing biomaterials according to a set pattern (using pattern formation to control where different chemicals are made).  What is interesting is how close we are to some of these ideas, for good or ill they may become reality within a few years.

In order to create these new organisms, we need to deploy considerable technologies.  The paper splits the processes of development into three parts – DNA synthesis, design and optimisation of parts, and model-guided circuit engineering.  In all phases it explains the developments, how it has become cheaper to make DNA de novo, how we can design switches to control gene expression (biotinkering!), and how we need to use complex mathematical models to work out how everything will behave.

This is all very exciting for the scientist, but scary too.  Should we really tinker with God’s work like this?  I do wonder whether materialist science is going too far.  Materialists will disagree, but these questions need to be debated in public, which means calling these scientists to explain what they are doing in terms that the laity will understand.

What of ID science?  I think there are clues here about how a creator could have arranged things.  But I need to think about them more before I write about them here.  Give me a few days!


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