Re: Life in the Lab -- Fox and the Nobel Prize

Arthur V. Chadwick (
Wed, 05 May 1999 15:03:10 -0700

At 03:49 PM 5/5/99 -0400, Moorad wrote:
That I am no expert in biology does not
>preclude me from learning from experts, and not merely the proponents, that
>life has been indeed synthesized in the lab. There surely must be a
>Scientific American type of magazine that discusses such a remarkable feat.
>You certainly are not an expert in physics but do know full well of all the
>fundamental, breakthroughs in physics. I can see the headlines in the New

You are absolutely right. As far back as I can trace my training in
science, there has been an urgency about demonstrating that man could
create life, which as is abundantly clear from discussions here, we cannot
even as yet define, something that would make a physicist's hair turn grey!
I remember well, when we had succeeded in duplicating the DNA of a virus
in vitro, "Life Created in a Testube" was the headline on every paper in
America. You can be sure that any claims that a living cell has been
created would receive similar acclaim. However, even if such claims were
made in the popular press (and they have not been), they would have no more
validity than the claim of cold fusion, until the work had been published
in Nature and Science and in the top peer-reviewed journals in the country,
and only after the experiments had successfully been repeated by others.
To date the closest things we have to this are the reductionist experiments
being done in a number of labs around the country using M genitalium, the
living cell with the smallest number of genes known. These experimenters
are concentrating on supplying external dependencies and successively
reducing the information content of the DNA in an attempt to determine what
the minimum genetic requirements for life are.