Have Scientists Created Life?

The recent discovery in a California laboratory that you can get pieces of genetic molecules (RNA) to self replicate in a test tube, for their “children” to mutate and then compete so that the ‘fittest’ are most successful is pretty fundamental stuff. It has always been argued that life as we know it must have emerged from the primordial ooze around 4 billion years ago. A bunch of chemicals were mixed in the right conditions for them to react together and form the fundamental features of all living things, but prior to this experiment it has remained to be demonstrated that the theory could work in practice. As one scientist describes, it is the point at which chemistry becomes biology.

Dr Gerald Joyce, Lead biologist at the Scripps Research Institute says that the mix in the pot is not alive “yet”, but others argue that it is. The definition of ‘life’ can be a bit tricky at this level and the only reason why Dr Joyce currently falls in the ‘no’ camp is because the RNA replicators do not have the capacity for open-ended evolution. However, the findings have captured the attention of scientists.

Describing the steps in the experiment, Dr Joyce said: “ … so now there are lots of replicators. And then we put the whole mix of replicators in a pot at the same time with a whole collection of parts and let them compete to see who can use the parts the most efficiently. And then as many generations of growth proceeded, the fit ones dominated the population”.

There is still some way to go before it can be proven that life as we know it can be created in the laboratory, but it would nonetheless appear to demonstrate how it might have been in the beginning.

Link to the NPR report
The basic unit of genetic material carried on chromosomes. Full medical glossary
Relating to the genes, the basic units of genetic material. Full medical glossary