May 21st, 2010
09:01 AM ET

Friday's intriguing people

Craig Venter

Scientists have turned inanimate chemicals into a living organism in an experiment that raises profound questions about the essence of life. Venter, the U.S. genomics pioneer, announced Thursday that scientists at his laboratories in Maryland and California had succeeded in their 15-year project to make the world's first "synthetic cells" - bacteria called Mycoplasma mycoides.

The bacteria's genes were all constructed in the laboratory "from four bottles of chemicals on a chemical synthesizer, starting with information on a computer," Venter told the Financial Times. The research - published online by the journal Science - was hailed as a landmark by many independent scientists and philosophers.

CNN: Scientists create a living organism

Financial Times: Scientists create synthetic life form with a computer and four bottles of chemicals

Sister Margaret Mary McBride

After the nun approved of an ethics committee decision to abort the fetus of a gravely ill woman at a Phoenix, Arizona, hospital, McBride was "automatically excommunicated by that action," according to Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix. The Catholic New Service reports that the unidentified patient was 11 weeks' pregnant and had pulmonary hypertension. Doctors at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center determined the condition carried a near-certain risk of death for the 27-year-old mother if the pregnancy continued.

"If there had been a way to save the pregnancy and still prevent the death of the mother, we would have done it. We are convinced there was not," health care officials who operate the hospital said in a letter to Olmsted, according to CNS. But the bishop said that "the direct killing of an unborn child is always immoral, no matter the circumstances, and it cannot be permitted in any institution that claims to be authentically Catholic," CNS reports.

McBride, an administrator at the hospital as well as liaison to the diocese, has been reassigned to other work, CNS reports.

Catholic News Service: Nun excommunicated, loses hospital post over decision on abortion

Dennis C. Blair

The president's top intelligence adviser has announced his resignation. Blair, director of national intelligence, is a retired four-star Navy admiral who has served in the post since January 2009. His office oversees 17 federal agencies of the U.S. intelligence community, including the CIA, FBI and Department of Homeland Security.

Blair's resignation comes two days after the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report that sharply criticized the National Counterterrorism Center, overseen by Blair's office, for failing to coordinate intelligence activities properly to detect the alleged attempted Christmas Day airline bombing in advance.

CNN: Obama's top intelligence adviser resigns

Rob Richer

The retired CIA officer plans to make a 3,200-mile bike ride across the country in September to honor his slain comrades. The Washington Post reports that five agency officers and two contractors were killed in a December suicide bombing near Khost, Afghanistan, when a Jordanian double agent got into an agency base camp, claiming to have information about al Qaeda operatives.

Richer, a 56- year-old former Marine, told the newspaper that the CIA officers, whose names - by law - cannot be revealed in public, deserve recognition. “They serve and lose their lives, but they remain anonymous,” Richer told the Post. “They don’t get a parade.”

The Washington Post: Cross-country bike ride to honor CIA officers killed in Khost attack

Robert Vicino

If the end is near, the 56-year-old real estate entrepreneur is ready. The Los Angeles Times reports that Vicino is selling berths in a 13,000-square-foot bunker near Barstow, California. When renovations are complete, the former Cold War government communications center will house 132 people for up to a year, according to Vicino.

Vicino told the newspaper that to reserve a space behind the 3,000-pound door costs $5,000 - half of that for kids - and to buy a four-person room, just shell out $50,000. “I’m careful not to promote fear,” Vicino told the Los Angeles paper. “But sooner or later, I believe you’re going to need to seek shelter.”

Los Angeles Times: Fallout shelters for a new generation

soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. Muhammad (Poo Be Upon Him)

    Last night on cp_dustbowl I got 180 points as a Heavy

    May 21, 2010 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
    • schlangemann

      well done! HWG was always one of my favorites, though the scout was my usual choice. Guess you could call me an extremest. im either slow and powerful or fast and lightweight.

      May 21, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greek

      You all are completely missing the point. If we are to ever have sustaining life on this planet we must evolve past these antiquities of production using fossil fuels, steel, & electricity. All future innovation is going to be in biomechanics, etc. moving us to a world where everything is organic in structure including the "machines" we would use to produce things. These are the first tiny steps to becoming a world that does not destroy itself. Unfortunately all these ridiculously ignorant religious people will continue to hold us back based upon timeless myths about how life revolves around a mythical creature called "God" and that he tells us that this is all wrong. wake up world.

      May 21, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • SMC

      Was it a 24/7 dustbowl server? Because if it was then I'm not as impressed as if it were a regularly timed match.

      May 21, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Muhammad (Poo Be Upon Him)

      nope it was standard rotation, but we rotate many maps on my server, I see it about once a day. unless francis is on, then we only play stupid crazy maps

      May 21, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. rwethereyet

    OMG,,, I mean OMS......

    May 21, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Alicia

    I don't think that making synthetic live organisms should be allowed. Life has been here for centuries and there is no need to create a synthetic life here. No need to play God! It is just plain wrong. Some things just need to stay as they are – we don't need to make a human out of chemicals. We are wonderful beings just as we are!

    May 21, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • flambool

      While I would agree that there is no reason to "make a human out of chemicals", I think there is a valid use for synthetic cells in applications such as skin regeneration for burn victims and a myriad of other similar scenarios.

      May 21, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Actually, we're horrible beings that do horrible things to each other. Seems like this "god" did a pretty poor job; I guarantee science can do better...

      May 21, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Qodex

      "Actually, we're horrible beings that do horrible things to each other. Seems like this "god" did a pretty poor job; I guarantee science can do better..."

      If there is no God, as most here assert, then science has been the culprit all along.

      May 21, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      "Actually, we're horrible beings that do horrible things to each other. Seems like this "god" did a pretty poor job; I guarantee science can do better..."

      More of the same lame victimhood stuff. We are masters of our own destimy. We make choices every moment of every day. Sometimes pain is the only way we wake up. The point about the pain caused by religion over the years is a good one – it's our choice whether such a structuire gets our support or not.... The longer we go one blaming an outside force for our lack of Godliness the longer it wil be before we finally live the truth that we are inherently God-like.

      May 21, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • gods little buddy

      'playing god is wrong' / 'Creating life is wrong' ... i hear these arguments alot, but there is not proof that i can see either of these are bad things. we reuse gods schematics and plans all the time. much of what we synthesize on an industrial level occurs naturally anyway, just not ecomonically. you people need to take a chill pill.. stop being so against 'cloned embryos' and 'artificial life'. Just cuz they banned cloning research in the private sector doesnt mean GOV labs havent been doing it all along. Just cuz you ban citizen gun ownership doesnt mean the criminals go 'aw shucks, guess i cant rob that guy now because i cant legally purchase a gun todo so'. Wanna not make god mad? Don't spill millions of barrels of oil and pollute half the gulf of mexico. "Drill Baby Drill". you shall enrich every oil company on earth, have no oil left in north America, and i bet you'll still be paying $4.00/gal for gasoline the whole time. Enjoy your Crude-covered coral reefs..

      May 21, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Henry Miller

      No, there's no need to "play God"–it's kind of a pointless, childish, game requiring only a thorough suppression of reason and any critical faculties you might have.

      May 21, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. MikinAZ

    Apparently God does exist – and his name is Craig Venter. Now if he can just get it to evolve we can dismiss all that religeos creationism nonsense. If lfe can come from chemical combinations (now proven) and we can watch it evolve – god discussion over and we can get back to human progress instead of it being stifled by ancient beliefs in mythical super beings.

    May 21, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Two problems with your glee ...
      1. The "synthetic cells" were not possible without using the living organism of yeast.
      2. Without the motivation of intellegience, why would inorganic chemicals desire to come together in any organized way?
      Just food for deeper thought ...

      May 21, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      I can make a car in a factory. Doesn't mean one can come into existince naturally without some designer.

      May 21, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Skunco

      "Without the motivation of intellegience, why would inorganic chemicals desire to come together in any organized way"

      They dont desire or think to come together in any organized way. Its just what happens when they are under those conditions. Why do the last few cheereos in the bowl stick together? Because they are scared? Why do magnets stick together but only certain ways. Because the north poles are racist and hate south poles? Everything does everything for a natural reason. With vast amounts of time, substances, and conditions, lots of wierd things will happen. It's too complicated to understand. So we pretend God did it all and we will live forever happily...but only after we die. lol

      May 21, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Henry Miller

      "Without the motivation of intellegience, why would inorganic chemicals desire to come together in any organized way?"

      Without the motivation of intelligence, why would a pair of dice roll eight snake-eyes in a row?

      Given enough time and enough random events, anything that can happen eventually will happen.

      And that, children, is the meaning of life.

      May 21, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Skunco,

      You're saying everything has a natural reason. You're right and wrong at the same time. Everyone says science is great and it is, but guess what? Science is rational. How come planets billions of lightyears away are rational just like our human brains? We live in a super rational world and it's through science we can decode everything behind it. A lot of science is discovered through math. This words because the world is rational. The universe works on super rational laws and I hope you would agree with me on this because it's the foundation of science. This being said... For everything to just appear something irrational MUST have happened. Space and Time are linked together and something irrational caused the creation of the two of them.

      May 21, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Paul

    With 97% of the dna not understood and arrogantly labelled "Junk", we are playing with the unknown. This is clearly an area where money will play a part in who develops what – Iran will no longer need to screw around with plutonium – much easier to pay milllions to the scientists with the right knowledge and away we go....

    May 21, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Vic

    Its about time chlorine was added to the gene pool.

    May 21, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dona

    @Alicia – the impetus for this research is not to "make humans out of chemicals," which certainly is unnecessary and inadvisable for many reasons. Synthetic cell research anticipates medical applications such as repairing damaged/burned skin tissues, replacing cells lost through disease or trauma, cancer treatments, etc., and these are just some of the applications that would directly benefit human patients. There are countless other ways the cells could be used as this research continues. Pure knowledge is NEVER inherently bad, or "plain wrong."

    May 21, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Qodex

      "Pure knowledge is NEVER inherently bad, or "plain wrong.""

      The WAY in which "pure knowledge" is obtained can be downright evil (think Mengele's children), as can the way such knowledge is employed. No one disputes the potential benefits, which are always trotted out on queue as if they were the beginning, middle, and end of the debate. But you supply the first counterargument yourself: "There are countless other ways the cells could be used". Indeed. Many fear deliberately engineered pathogens, and rightly so. There are numerous labs around the world dedicated to weaponizing the pathogens we already have. Yet this is not the gravest concern. There are ways to more-or-less deal with these situations; we understand these threats and are prepared for them. The real doomsday scenarios flow from the law of unintended consequences. How many times have we heard "It was never our intention to..." or "We had no idea that..." or "No one could have foreseen..." or "It was an accident..."? You might think the risk negligible, but the truth is you don't know, and neither does anyone else, and the stakes are extremely high.

      In this case the genie is already out of the bottle, and we're basically an anti-Luddite society (and species) to begin with.
      But to patronizingly dismiss legitimate concerns does nothing to facilitate progress.

      May 21, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Catt22

    Maybe Craig Venter and friends can engineer an organism to break down/consume the gulf oil spill. Might be a very timely discovery they got there. As MikinAZ mentioned above, god probably doesn't exist, so I wouldn't count on any help from it. OTOH, another national day of prayer with special emphasis on helping us with the oil spill couldn't possibly do any harm. It would be cheap and easy to pull off. Might be a good test of this god thingy.

    May 21, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dona

      That is exactly the sort of thing I was suggesting!

      May 21, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • KMac

      The Sea Brat that is sitting unused at this time (which is the alternate dispersant to replace what BP was using) is exactly what you suggested- a bacterial agent which consumes hydrocarbons and a soap agent.

      May 21, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dona

    There are those who believe that "God" has given us the ability to know ourselves, to seek and ultimately achieve enlightenment, and eventually to become so enlightened as to achieve conscious evolution. Enlightenment requires that we embrace and enthusiastically disseminate pure knowledge. Enlightenment requires that we become less concerned with self-interest and more holistic in our approach to our planet and our fellow inhabitants on our planet. And "God" requires us to stop using Him/Her/It as our excuse for perpetuating fear of the unknown, hatred and ignorance. Inclusion, not exclusion. Broader, not narrower. Higher, not lower. Advance, not retreat. Lift UP thine eyes!

    May 21, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Qodex

      Hmm. More pontificating.

      "Enlightenment requires that we embrace and enthusiastically disseminate pure knowledge." No, it doesn't. It requires that we consider the costs, benefits and risks associated first with the acquisition then the deployment of knowledge. It also requires due consideration of the moral dimension. Josef Mengele embraced and enthusiastically disseminated the pure knowledge of, among other things, the effects on small children of organ removal, castration, and amputations without anesthesia. But, hey, pure knowledge is NEVER inherently bad, or "plain wrong."

      As for the rest of your essay, when it comes to questions of living the good life, the problem always was, is, and will be: as defined by whom? "Less self-interest" has always been the plea of the well-fed.

      "so enlightened as to achieve conscious evolution" Perhaps you've been watching too much Stargate.

      May 21, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ken

    Make it pay taxes.

    May 21, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Brad

    Take God out of the equation and you will find that there is no problem with this breakthrough. Keep pushing forward I say

    May 21, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dr. Greg

    Dona: It is hard to see how "God" (in whatever incarnation man has managed to dream up) has done much in the way of "enlightenment". Tell that to the millions killed over the centuries in the name of religion. I think the human spirit will still be very much intact someday when we are able to demystify our creation and not rely on a few outdated books as our "playbook" for life.

    May 21, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Sweede

    With the dismissal of ADM Blair without a replacement named indicates POTUS has lost confidence in his abilities to get the job done. DCI is an impossible job and don't know Clapper (or?) will any more "effective" than Blair. Unfortunate because ADM Blair is smart and should have been allowed at least two years to work the processes and policies necessary to be proactive in crisis management and then given a respectful exit. Without question it is Emmanual, the POTUS C/S behind each of these personnel decisions. C/S common White House saying is, "The flogging will stop when the morale improves".

    May 21, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Michael Daily

    Screw that bishop – no one in his right mind would think the fetus's life was worth as much as his mother's. Follow the religion's rules, even at the cost of your own life – screw him.

    May 21, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • rickinmo

      What chance does an eleven week old fetus have if the mother dies? Answer: NONE. At least one of them is still alive.

      May 21, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. rich romanik

    Sorry, I don't beleive it. You cannot create life. I don't think we have the whole story here. Only god can put the spark in there to create life.

    May 21, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • rickinmo

      Keep on thinking that the possible is impossible while the rest of us embrace progress. Religion has been proven wrong many times but, religious people continue to reject science in favor of fairy tales. Throw in the towel and join the real world.

      May 21, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
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