Man has always dreamed of creating life in a laboratory. From Mary Shelley's Frankesnstein to Isaac Asimov's robot I, artificial life is a science fiction classic. The technological advances of the last century give rise to new projects, through genetic engineering and synthetic biology.
In 1953, Stanley Miller recreated in a laboratory the conditions of the Earth's primitive atmosphere. He tried to create artificial life to explain how it originated. He obtained numerous basic amino acids for life. They are the previous step to the origin of life. But nothing else.
In 2010, the Craig Venter Institute managed to create a bacterium with an artificial genome in the laboratory. This is Mycoplasma mycoides, a very simple bacterium with a very simple genetic code. The bacteria's own DNA was isolated and replaced by another manufactured in the laboratory. The bacteria began to function with the new DNA, and transmitted it when reproduced. Although it is not strictly artificial life, because the bacteria already existed. The only artificial thing is its new DNA.
Clonic animals are another attempt to create artificial life. The experiments began in 1997, with the sheep Dolly.
The most common is genetic manipulation to create new species or perfect existing ones. Genetically modified organisms are called transgenic. Although they have many advantages, they also pose ethical problems, often motivated by the interests and bad practices of the multinationals behind.
Genetic manipulation brings many benefits. Crop improvement is one of them. It represents important advances in the fight against diseases such as diabetes, some types of cancer and other inherited ailments. It has made artificial insulin possible. Gene therapy consists of modifying the DNA of some viruses, introducing them into the patient's body and making them "work" for him, following the instructions of his new genetic code.
The drawback is the actual practice. The GM industry is now in the hands of one or two private multinationals. Its weight is very large economically and politically worldwide. A real practice, among many others, is to monopolize the lands of the "invisible" countries of Africa and South America. They deplete their natural resources, lead them to more poverty and, sometimes, to great famine.
Another drawback is the misuse of genetic manipulation. Who sets where the limit is? In whose hands can that power fall? It has moral implications and this is when bioethics intervenes. For example, through genetic manipulation, artificial selection of human beings would be possible. Manufacture people with certain characteristics to improve the species. Something similar to Aldous Huxley's novel "A Happy World."
Until today, genetic engineering is the closest thing to artificial life. It brings great benefits to humanity. But, for this, it is necessary that its use and limits be carefully regulated.