by Bill Sardi
July 5, 2006
In the Brave New World of uncharted
biology, does everything go? Where will biologists stop in their
directionless frenzy to acquire basic scientific knowledge?
The latest fad among biologists is called synthetic biology. The
small group that calls themselves synthetic biologists are already
squirming at the thought of regulation, fearing limits will hinder
their efforts to reach as yet undefined goals. The whole idea of
synthetic biology is to improve upon nature, but there is a lot of
gibberish coming from the mouths of these biologists that makes the
most avid science buff begin to question what is going on.
Synthetic biologists claim they intend to create bioengineered
organisms that can,
"produce pharmaceuticals, detect toxic chemicals,
break down pollutants, repair defective genes, destroy cancer
[The New Atlantis, Spring, 2006]
These are laudable
objectives. But there is a dark side to the direction they are
It’s not that humans don’t already modify nature and transform
biological systems. The cross-breeding of watermelons to produce
seedless varieties, or grafting varieties of flowers to create, for
example, new colors of roses, has already been accomplished without
hesitance or harm. Gregor Mendel’s work (1823–84 AD), which began by
crossing varieties of pea sprouts, continues today.
But it has gone
Synthetic biologists extend their work even beyond the concerns of
genetically modified (GMO) foods. They want to design new strands of
DNA into sequences that result in totally man-made viruses, no part
being derived from DNA sequences found in nature.
Keep in mind, even with regulations in place, GMO "Franken" foods
have crept into the food chain. Even with regulations in place, bees
cross-pollinate GMO crops with natural varieties.
GMO foods have
been developed with a good intent, to develop crops that resist
insect attack, but may result in upsetting the food chain. British
researchers recently counted fewer bees and butterflies in GMO
[Proceedings Biology Science 2005 Mar 7; 272(1562): 463–74]
Despite public objection, GMO soy and corn have been consumed by
humans without proper labeling and notification. Will newly designed
biological systems made by synthetic biologists secretly be released
for use, as has GMO?
Viruses can be used as vectors (vehicles) to
secretly vaccinate human populations.
What synthetic biologists propose is more outrageous and dangerous
than GMO crops, and it is easier for them to skirt around any rules
and regulations. Synthetic biologists work inside hidden
laboratories, not in open-air crop fields. They can place an order
to build whole new viruses from synthetic DNA by simply ordering
viral DNA from a genetic synthesis company.
[Nature May 25, 2006]
Synthetic biologists are comprised of a group numbering no more than
about 500 at present. They want to use bits of DNA, called
"bio-bricks," to build pseudo-organisms that can grow and act (even
replicate) in more precisely controlled ways – creating "machines"
which are "not quite like anything found in nature," explains
Steffen in an online scientific blog
[May 5, 2004].
Oh, Synthetic biologists aren’t going to create the blob – well, not
just yet anyway. They claim they are going to police themselves,
mostly limiting their activity to changing short chains of DNA in
viruses, which are parts of DNA that can only replicate within
living host cells. But synthetic biologists may have other agendas.
They refer to "redesigning life" to "generate chemical systems that
support Darwinian evolution."
Albeit, they reveal they intend to
create, "the bridge between non-life and life," according to two
chemists from the University of Florida who count themselves among
the ranks of Synthetic biologists.
[Nature Reviews Genetics, July
What do synthetic biologists want to prove?
Just exactly what do the two aforementioned chemists at the
University of Florida really mean by this? Do they intend to utilize
synthetic biology, for example, to artificially evolve humans from
After all, the first comprehensive comparison of the
genetic blueprints of humans and chimpanzees shows these primates
share a perfect identity with 96 percent of human DNA sequences.
[Nature Sept. 1, 2005]
Indeed, the discovery of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick in
1953 was claimed to be the very mechanism behind Darwinian
[Nature April 25, 1953, pp. 737–738, Nature May 30, 1953,
Watson and Crick claimed their objective was to
dethrone the traditional theory that a Creator produced life and to
prove that life was created and controlled by DNA. The discovery of
DNA was even called "the eighth day of creation."
The Eighth Day of Creation: The Makers of the Revolution
in Biology. 1979]
Francis Crick, in an
interview in 2003, said his distaste for religion was one of his
prime motives in the work that led to the sensational 1953
"The god hypothesis is rather discredited," said Crick.
[Telegraph (London), March 20, 2003]
The problem has been that substitutions of new proteins that occur
over time within the nucleotide ladder that comprise genes have
never been able to demonstrate the production of a new species.
Alterations in DNA describe traits and natural variation, such as
coloration of butterfly wings or the differences in bird beaks noted
Charles Darwin during this stay in the Galápagos Islands in the
1800s. Mendelian genetics is often inappropriately portrayed as
evidence of Darwinian evolution.
Possibly synthetic biologists hope
to prove they can create life and conclusively demonstrate evolution
for the first time.
Recalling the Miller/Urey experiment
Synthetic biology’s objective, to "create life," harks back to the
laboratory experiment of Stanley L. Miller and Harold C. Urey in
1953 at the University of Chicago.
Miller and Urey attempted to
create the building blocks of life, amino acids, from a mixture of
gases (ammonia, methane, hydrogen) and water, stimulated by an
electric current that simulated atmospheric lightning, all believed
to be common on the early earth.
Their experiment, to re-create
life’s building blocks from a "primordial soup," was a flop and is
often considered scientific mythology, since even if organic
compounds could be created and real life forms emanate, a high
methane-ammonia environment would have killed any living matter.
[Science July 31, 130: 245–512, 1959]
Nonetheless, the University of
Chicago celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Miller/Urey
experiment in 2003.
Oddly, modern biology has never repeated the
Miller/Urey experiment to verify its conclusions.
A different kind of genetic playground
There is a difference between genetic engineering and synthetic
biology. The former involves insertion of existing genes into
another species. For example, glow-in-the-dark fish have been
created by insertion of a gene that produces a fluorescent chemical
in their skin.
What synthetic biologists propose is to create novel genomes from a
set of genetic parts. They want to create genes that don’t as yet
exist in nature, and they can’t be sure how they will work until
till implant them into living systems.
For now, synthetic biologists are limited to redesigning organisms
with small genomes, like Mycoplasma genitalium which has the
smallest known bacterial genome (482 protein-coding genes). But this
is where the going gets worrisome.
The easiest area of biological manipulation is viruses. These are
extremely small and simple life-forms, made merely of a protein
shell and a genome. A virus reproduces by inserting its genome into
the cells of other life-forms. As those cells duplicate, so does the
scientists at the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention have synthesized the Spanish flu virus, responsible
for the 1918 flu pandemic. They have been able to alter its genome
and make it 39,000 times more virulent than any other flu virus!
[Science (T. M. Tumpey et al.) 310, 77–80; 2005]
What if this virus
escapes from the laboratory?
Synthetic biology is like designing a gun that will fire in unknown
directions. Jonathan B. Tucker and Raymond A. Zilinskas, writing in
New Atlantis, state that bioengineered systems remain "noisy," that
They quote Drew Endy of MIT who says synthetic
biology is as yet unable to predict accurately how a new genetic
circuit will behave inside a living cell. Synthetic biologists
propose to create life forms de novo, that is, for the first time.
There is no animal model where these new biological systems can be
tested that can predict how it might behave in humans.
Public more concerned about lab scientists than biological
Markus Schmidt of Austria, writing in Nature Magazine, says,
public is more fearful that the potentially troublesome lifeforms
will be accidentally released from laboratories than they are
concerned that some biological terrorist will unleash them for
[Nature 441: June 29, 2006]
The most likely misapplication of synthetic biology involves the
re-creation of known pathogenic viruses in the laboratory. These
viruses could be a problem even if a person is genetically resistant
and has been recently immunized.
Viruses have escaped from high bio-security labs.
In 2003 a SARS
virus escaped accidentally from a level-3 bio-security lab in
Singapore, and in 2004 two further escapes occurred from such labs
[Nature 437, 794–795 – 6 October 2005]
The recent anthrax attack by postal delivery was genetically tracked
back to a strain developed at a military laboratory at the US Army
Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick (USAMRIID),
[New Scientist news service, May 9, 2002]
investigation stopped there and proceeded no further.
Nature Magazine says,
"the ability of human societies to modify and
transform biological systems will increase more in this century than
it has in the hundred centuries since the dawn of agriculture."
[Nature 441, May 25, 2006]
What are the chances a lethal virus will
escape? It’s enough of an imagined nightmare for some biologists to
demand that all such experiments be abandoned.
Why take the chance,
Blame it on biohackers
Who is thinking of using synthetic biology – the "good guys" or the
Well, it’s not quite so easy to stereotype biological
terrorists as being from Al Qaeda.
News reports already want to
blame any future release of synthetic life forms on "biohackers,"
whoever that might be.
[EE Times: Experts worry that synthetic
biology may spawn biohackers, June 29, 2006]
Actually, as previously
stated, synthetic biology’s new life forms could find their way
outside the laboratory, not by intent, but by mistake.
An article in Arms Control Today says:
"Living synthetic cells will
likely be made in the next decade; synthetic pathogens more
effective than wild or genetically engineered natural pathogens will
be possible sometime thereafter… Such synthetic cellular pathogens
could be designed to be contagious or lethal or disabling."
Atlantis, Spring 2006]
Notice this statement emanates from a
military magazine, talking about biological warfare, not from a
scientific journal talking about genetics being used to improve
human life. The potential negative and harmful aspects of genetic
engineering far outweigh any imagined benefits.
Hundreds of genetic
breakthroughs that would benefit mankind could be negated by one
slip-up in a laboratory.
The initial demonstration project
In order to usher in synthetic biology and gain public approval, the
initial showcased project is to develop a synthetic form of
artemisinin, a molecule produced by the wormwood plant that
naturally grows in Southeast Asia.
While artemisinin is a very cheap
remedy for malaria, synthetic biologists claim it is still costly
(estimated cost of $1 billion to supply 70% of malaria victims
worldwide), so they want to make it synthetically.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has released a $42.5 million
grant to produce synthetic artemisinin. But this is not true
synthetic biology. They would be creating the same molecule. It’s a
covert way of gaining public acceptance for things to come under the
banner of synthetic biology.
Furthermore, the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation is looking more like a non-profit front for R&D (Research
& Develop) of
vaccines and medicines that will eventually make billions of dollars
on a worldwide scale.
Consider two courses for synthetic biology.
Let’s consider the second use of synthetic biology first – to
prolong the human life span. One way biologists could do this is to
re-insert into human fertilized ova (eggs) the gene sequence for
synthesis of an enzyme called gulonolactone oxidase (GLO), so that
human offspring can continually synthesize vitamin C as most other
This should be a priority among biologists since humans carry a
dysfunctional gene for this enzyme, which disables the synthesis of
vitamin C in the liver, making humans totally reliant upon paltry
dietary doses of vitamin C to prevent scurvy. Surprisingly, there
are only 142 published reports on GLO in the expansive and growing
National Library of Medicine database. Biologists have demonstrated
little interest in this topic.
Humans have been described as a mutant species because of their
inability to produce vitamin C. Most mammals have the intact gene
for GLO synthesis and produce generous daily amounts of the liver
metabolite ascorbate (vitamin C), about 20 milligrams per pound of
body weight (equivalent to 3200 milligrams for a
The restoration of this missing
hormone/vitamin was proposed by Irwin Stone in the 1970s to create
"a new and more robust, longer-living, tough human sub-species."
[Medical Hypotheses 5: 711–21, 1979]
Four enzymes are required for the conversion of blood sugar into
ascorbate (vitamin C). Long ago in human history the gene that
controls the fourth enzyme, gulonolactone oxidase, fell into
The injection of the GLO enzyme into guinea pigs, which
suffer the same predicament as humans and cannot synthesize
ascorbate, produces vitamin C.
[Nutrition Reviews 1982 Oct; 40(10):
The effects of this mutation and vitamin deficiency are not
solely limited to symptoms of overt scurvy (bleeding gums, sore
joints, fatigue, poor wound healing). For example, without the
provision of supplemental vitamin C, ~800 milligram human equivalent
in a guinea pig, this animal will invariably develop cardiovascular
disease and die prematurely.
The whole structure of the human GLO gene, which is similar in
structure and origin to a gene in another species, has been
disclosed by a computer-assisted search. Geneticists at Wakayama
University in Japan know how to correct this genetic error.
Here is their description of the problem:
exons (the protein coding DNA sequence of a gene), as
compared to 12 exons constituting the functional rat GLO gene,
remain in the human genome. A comparison of these exons with those
of their functional counterparts in rats shows that there are two
single nucleotide deletions (a nucleotide is a subunit of DNA as
adenine, guanine, thymine, or cytosine), one triple nucleotide
deletion, and one single nucleotide insertion in the human sequence.
When compared in terms of
codons (a specific sequence of three DNA
bases within a gene), the human sequence has a deletion of a single
amino acid, two stop codons, and two aberrant codons missing one
nucleotide besides many amino acid substitutions.
Science Vitaminology 49: 315–19, 2003]
Furthermore, researchers at Kyoto University in Japan have
successfully inserted the missing or dysfunctional GLO gene into
fertilized eggs of scurvy-prone medaka fish, producing offspring
that can synthesize vitamin C.
[Biochemical Biophysical Research
Communications 223: 650–53, 1996]
So why is there no priority among synthetic biologists to restore
the major human biological flaw that has plagued mankind for
The lack of expressed enthusiasm for the re-insertion of
a functional GLO gene into the human genome goes unexplained. Maybe
it’s because the loss of the GLO gene does not fit preconceived
Darwinian theories, that mankind progressively evolved from lower
This gene mutation would have made Homo sapiens less able
to survive. Who really knows why this main concern hasn’t taken
precedence within the ranks of synthetic biologists? It is believed
the restoration of the GLO gene would prolong human life by many
decades over and above current life expectancy.
prevailing agenda to control the size of the world’s human
population would explain the absence of a GLO gene insertion project
from the drawing boards of biologists.
Course No. 2 for synthetic biology
Now ponder how synthetic biology could be employed to address the
population control agenda. The "accidental" development of a deadly
virus that escapes from a lab would be one scenario that comes to
It has been said that nature once kept the size of human
populations under control by periodically unleashing plagues, and
that diseases of old need to be re-introduced, in keeping with the
Darwinian theory of "survival of the fittest." It is interesting to
note that once humans gained the knowledge of how to manipulate the
genome of pathogenic germs, we hear of retroviruses and mutated
viruses that can sweep the earth and potentially kill millions,
There is no natural mutation that explains why
viruses are jumping from animals to humans for the first time in
Covert population control efforts already underway
Massive overt efforts to control world population size are underway,
which include birth control, delay of marriage, acceptance of gay
marriage, limitation of family size, abortion, greater independence
of females, etc. However, there is suspicion that covert
control population size are already underway.
Why do fertility
clinics abound today when they were never needed decades ago?
For example, the recent realization that cholesterol reduction
doesn’t significantly improve life expectancy causes one to wonder
why cholesterol control is such a widely promoted public agenda.
[Journal Hypertension 23:1803–8, 2005]
It may surprise you to learn
that a report in the Journal of the Pharmaceutical Society of Japan
calls for the abandonment of the cholesterol theory of heart
[Journal Pharmaceutical Society Japan -YAKUGAKU ZASSHI,
Volume 125 (11), pages 833–852, 2005]
Dietary fat and cholesterol are a precursor to the synthesis of
estrogen and testosterone, sex hormones required for fertility and
virility. Female mice that have altered forms of HDL cholesterol are
[Journal Clinical Investigation 2001 Dec; 108(11):
Lowering cholesterol may lower hormone levels. Is the
public program to control cholesterol, even among fertile young
adults who are at little risk for cardiovascular disease, just a
hidden population control program?
The effort to
insert fluoride into public drinking water supplies
may also be a covert population control method.
The fact that credible experts have voiced their scientific
objections to fluoridation, that European nations forbid
fluoridation of water supplies, and the fact that persons who have
grown up with fluoridated water have, on the average, only 1/2 of
one filling less per lifetime than people who did not drink
fluoridated water [Chemical and Engineering News, May 8, 1989],
causes one to ask, why does the U.S. fluoridate drinking water
Scientific objections to fluoridation by
David R. Hill,
Professor Emeritus, The University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and
Robert J. Carton, PhD, former EPA scientist can be viewed online.
A single micro-dose of fluoride injected into adult male albino rats
causes arrest of sperm production and absence of sperm in the
[Reproductive Toxicology 1991; 5(6): 505–12]
mating, fertility and survival indices of rodents are not affected
by high levels of fluoride in drinking water.
Toxicology 2001 Jun; 39(6): 601–13]
But rodents synthesize their own
vitamin C as a hormone; humans do not, and thus have natural
protection against the deleterious effects of fluoride. The
provision of supplemental vitamin C reverses adverse effects of
fluoride on male sperm.
[International Journal Fertility Menopausal
Studies 1994 Nov-Dec; 39 (6): 337–46]
Covert population control efforts may explain the current effort to
limit dosage of vitamins in dietary supplements (CODEX-World Health
Organization). Decreased levels of vitamin C impair the production
of sperm in human males.
[West African Journal Medicine 2004
Oct-Dec; 23(4): 290–3]
Vitamin supplements prolong the period of
fertility in animals.
[British Poultry Science 2005 Jun; 46(3):
Limitations on dosage of vitamins in food supplements could
adversely affect fertility rates in human populations.
Would synthetic biology similarly be employed in covert attempts to
control the size of human populations?
Creating new life
To many people, the idea of creating life in the laboratory seems
like science fiction.
Yet some synthetic scientists now claim they
are on the verge of doing it. Assume for a moment that, in the
interest of basic science, synthetic biologists want only to test
hypotheses to confirm the
theory of Darwinian evolution. This sounds
innocent enough. Yet, even if synthetic biologists can create a new
virus de novo, that is, from scratch, this still does not create a
complex life form nor explain how amino acids (proteins) came to be
formed or arranged into DNA.
Paul Davies is a visiting professor at Imperial College Life,
described the challenge in a 2002 issue of the Guardian (UK).
says life, as we now know it, is not magic matter. It isn't
something that can be incubated in chemistry labs.
"It can’t be
conjured up by infusing matter with energy, such as a bolt of
electricity, à la Dr Frankenstein."
No life force can be added to
molecules to create life.
Professor Davies explains it this way:
"Instead, the living cell is best thought of as a supercomputer – an
information processing and replicating system of astonishing
complexity. DNA is not a special life-giving molecule, but a genetic
databank that transmits its information using a mathematical code.
Most of the workings of the cell are best described, not in terms of
material stuff – hardware – but as information, or software. Trying
to make life by mixing chemicals in a test tube is like soldering
switches and wires in an attempt to produce Windows 98. It won't
work because it addresses the problem at the wrong conceptual
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, commented that,
"DNA is like a
software program, only much more complex than anything we've ever
In 2002 Craig Venter, a pioneer involved in the human genome
project, announced his intention to create a brand new life form.
Venter plans to strip down and reconstruct the genome of Mycoplasma
genitalium, a primitive microbe that inhabits the genital tract.
Professor Davies suggests we don’t hold our breath over this. He
"But this isn't making life so much as rearranging it. Even a simple
bacterium is a vast assemblage of intricately crafted molecules,
many of them elaborately customized. Although those specialized
molecules are not themselves living, they are the products of living
things. Scientists make use of them in their microbial tinkering. In
other words, they use the products of living organisms to re-make
living organisms. They remain a long way from being able to put
together a living cell from scratch."
Davies ends his paper by asking:
"How did nature fabricate the
world's first digital information processor – the original living
cell – from the blind chaos of blundering molecules? How did
molecular hardware get to write its own software?"
Maybe the question of the origin of life is beyond the reach of
modern biology. Long ago the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes
"No man can find out the work that
God maketh from the
beginning to the end."
Maybe we will never know.