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Life from Scratch

January 18, 2008
clipped from

Learning to make synthetic cells

Maggots don’t arise spontaneously out of dead, rotting meat. Aphids never materialize within drops of morning dew. Aristotle and others who believed in the spontaneous generation of life were dead wrong.


The only time life arose from nonlife, biologists believe, was almost 4 billion years ago, when simple living cells first appeared on Earth. But now, with the help of a microscopic parasite that infects people’s genitals, researchers may rehabilitate the core of Aristotle’s idea.
Scientists are on the verge of creating living cells by piecing together small molecules that are themselves not alive. The result would be the world’s first human-made life forms, synthetic cells made more or less from scratch.
The goal is to make cells that are as simple as possible, yet still able to grow, reproduce, and evolve—some of the defining traits of life.
“Simplicity has always been where we try to gain understanding,”
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