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In die Skriflig

On-line version ISSN 2305-0853
Print version ISSN 1018-6441


RHEEDER, Riaan A.L.. An exploration of synthetic biology: A preliminary Christian ethical assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of synthetic biology. In Skriflig (Online) [online]. 2014, vol.48, n.2, pp.01-10. ISSN 2305-0853.

On 20 May 2010, the Venter Institute in America announced that they have fully synthesised the genome of the organism Mycoplasma mycoides whilst in vitro by using a computer connected to a machine that synthesises genes. Thereafter, the genome was placed back into the casing of another organism (Mycoplasma capricolum) and it was reported that the synthesised organism and the genome functioned normally. This synthesised organism was reconstructed to function as a minute little factory with the aim of producing and secreting fuel and medicine − something that is not the natural function of this organism. There are certain potential dangers inherent in this kind of technology. Scientists fear that this technology may contaminate or infect humans, animals or the environment, and that it can as such be extremely harmful, or even lead to the destruction of humans. Other scientists are concerned that terrorists can use this technology to kill innocent citizens. Some ethicists are of the opinion that the consequences of synthetic biology is currently unpredictable and that it is therefore risky. In opposition to the potential dangers, one has to mention that synthetic biology indeed can result in far-reaching positive outcomes such as the manufacturing of biofuel and medication. Most scientists and ethicists are of the opinion that the potential dangers involved in synthetic biology should be evaluated in light of the fact that genetic manipulation has not caused any biological devastation over the last 30 years. From a Christian point of departure, the opinion is currently that synthetic biology is not an irresponsible science and technology.

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