Venter’s lifeform – revolutonary or incremental

venter by jurvetson

NYT, Chronicle, more: Venter’s synthetic cell–Landmark or ho-hum?
[Via Knight Science Journalism Tracker]

Page A17?

That’s where the New York Times plays Craig Venter’s announcement of a computer-generated synthetic genome able to take over a cell’s operations–and reproduce. In the second graf, Nicholas Wade quotes Venter as saying this is “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.”

That’s obviously a carefully crafted comment, and reporters are free to react with skepticism–indeed, that’s exactly what they should do. But when a prominent and highly accomplished scientist makes that claim, doesn’t that deserve better than Page A17? Or, to put it another way, how the hell can that NOT make Page 1?????

The Times didn’t even put it on the National page; it’s merely one in a grab-bag of national stories. The National page leads with student protests over budget cuts at Puerto Rican campuses, a story few of us will remember tomorrow, unless we happen to be students at a Puerto Rican college. Do you remember the last student protests over budget cuts? Of course not.

Also placed more prominently than Venter’s research are a story on a Harrisburg, Pa. incinerator, one on the White House gate crashers, and, on the front page, one on the sex life of a Chinese computer science professor and another on inflated pensions in Yonkers, N.Y.

No comment.

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A really nice compilation of some of the articles ranging from its one of mankind’s greatest achievements to its a small technical advance. I would probably lean towards the latter.

To me, the big deal is getting the one large chromosome constructed, with all the appropriate genes. Once that hurdle is overcome, the rest is a pretty straightforward shot. It still requires a living cell to start things up.

But being able to make a self-replicating cell using DNA that you created is really neat.

This opens up all sorts of possibilities regarding examination of genes and proteins. That is pretty exciting but does not seem to be the paradigm-shifting event some are heralding. To me, Venter’s greatest paradigm shift was one of his first – instead of sequencing chromosomal DNA from humans, sequence the mRNAs that correspond to genes. That way we can ignore all the complicating ‘junk’ DNA.