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Science of man-made life can proceed: White House
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The White House on Thursday said the controversial field of synthetic biology, or manipulating the DNA of organisms to forge new life forms, poses limited risks and should be allowed to proceed.

An expert panel convened by President Barack Obama advised vigilance and self-regulation as scientists seeks ways to create new organisms that could spark useful innovations in clean energy, pollution control and medicine.

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues "concluded that synthetic biology is capable of significant but limited achievements posing limited risks," it said in its first report.

"Future developments may raise further objections, but the Commission found no reason to endorse additional federal regulations or a moratorium on work in this field at this time."

The panel was created by Obama last year. Its first order of business was to consider the issue of synthetic biology after the J. Craig Venter Institute announced in May it had developed the first self-replicating bacteria cell controlled by a synthetic genome.

Critics said the discovery was tantamount to "playing God," creating organisms without adequate understanding the ramifications, and upsetting the natural order.

Announcing the creation of the "first synthetic cell," lead researcher Craig Venter said at the time it "certainly changed my views of the definitions of life and how life works."

But the commission said Venter's team had not actually created life, since the work mainly involved altering an already existing life form.

"Thoughtful deliberation about the meaning of this achievement was impossible in the hours that elapsed between the breaking news and the initial round of commentaries that ensued," it said in its report.

"Of note, many scientists observe that this achievement is not tantamount to 'creating life' in a scientific sense because the research required a functioning, naturally occurring host cell to accept the synthesized genome."


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