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David Deamer: "Synthetic Life" | Talks at Google - Buxrs.com
Published: 8 years ago By: Talks at Google

By: Talks at GooglePublished: 8 years ago

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Authors@Google presents "Synthetic Life: Can the Origin of Life Tape be Replayed?" by David Deamer

"Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist of creating out of void, but out of chaos."
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

In Mary Shelley's classic tale, Dr. Victor Frankenstein assembled a human body from parts retrieved from cadavers. The novel, published nearly two hundred years ago, raised questions that we would now consider to fall within the realm of bioethics. If Dr. Frankenstein wanted to carry out his experiment today he would need to bring it to the attention of the IRB (Institutional Review Board) at his university who would doubtless reject it. And yet, a number of laboratories around the world are attempting to perform a reconstitution of life eerily similar to Frankenstein's dream, to fabricate something alive from a parts list, but on a microscopic scale. There is even a name for such science: synthetic biology. Steven Jay Gould once commented that evolutionary history is like a tape recording, and if we played it again the result would likely be very different. That is probably true for the complexities of evolution, but there may have been only one way for life to originate within the laws of chemistry and physics. In my talk I will briefly trace the history of attempts to fabricate artificial cells that increasingly are approaching the definition of living organisms. These efforts have not yet succeeded, but there is reason to believe that the goal may be achieved in the next decade. The point is that as we attempt to assemble synthetic life, we are retracing some of the steps that led to the origin of life and perhaps will be able to play the tape again.

David Deamer is a Research Professor in the Department of Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His undergraduate B.Sc. degree was in Chemistry, at Duke University, Durham NC (1961) and his Ph.D. in Physiological Chemistry from the Ohio State University School of Medicine (1965). Following post-doctoral research at UC Berkeley, he joined the faculty at UC Davis in 1967. In 1994 he moved his laboratory to UC Santa Cruz. Prof. Deamer's research focuses on the process by which cellular life arose on the Earth nearly four billion years ago. This involves studies of meteorites that contain organic carbon compounds, volcanoes that are early Earth analogues, and self-assembly of complex lipid-nucleic acid systems that exhibit some of the properties of life. Prof. Deamer has written First Life, a book on the origin of life that will be published by UC Press in June, 2011.

This talk was hosted by Boris Debic.

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