Bailey tries to quell concerns over man-made organisms:
No one is talking about releasing synthetic organisms into the environment at this stage. The Venter team “watermarked” the synthetic cells with unique genetic sequences to distinguish them from natural cells so that they could keep track of them. And before getting too worked up over the potential dangers of escaped synthetic microbes, keep in mind that humans have been moving thousands of exotic microbial species across continents and oceans for centuries. Surely, some have had deleterious effects, but the world has not come to an end.
In any case, many lab-crafted creatures would likely be obliterated by competing organisms honed by billions of years of evolution in the wild. In the future, synthetic organisms could be equipped with suicide genes where their survival is dependent on some chemical that is only available in the lab. For example, if synthetic microbes are created to treat some kind of pollution, they would be supplied with the chemical onsite and once their work was done, they would be starved of it. In addition, future synthetic lifeforms should be “watermarked” like Venter’s new microbe so that their creators can be held accountable for them.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.