Life from Scratch?

“For almost two weeks those in the evolutionary community have been claiming that scientists have made life “from scratch.” At Apologetics Press, we have received numerous requests to write an article on the subject. One of our outstanding auxiliary staff scientists, Joe Deweese, who has an earned Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Vanderbilt University, has given a response. You can read his excellent article on our home page at www.ApologeticsPress.org.”

     The above was posted on Apologetics Press’ Facebook page this morning and caught me by surprise. I had not heard any report that any scientist was claiming to have “created life from scratch.” But Deweese’s article (available at http://apologeticspress.org/articles/240389) gives references and abundant details of the claim.

     Deweese also reveals the, what I believe should be obvious, flaw in the scientists’ claims. First, in order to “make life,” the researchers borrowed a prototype. They used existing DNA structure as a model of how to create their own. Now, synthesizing DNA is an amazing feat. They had to know what genes could be manipulated without compromising the life sustaining qualities of the organism. They had to synthesize about 1080 base pair of genes in 1000 sequences. Then they had to stitch those together into 1,000,000 base pairs. (Incidentally, this is for a bacterial cell. Human cells require 3000 times that many base pairs.)

     So they are growing synthetic DNA and we come to the second problem: they used living material as a place to grow their synthetic DNA. The individual genes were placed in yeast where they were able to grow together to become DNA double-helixes ready to be used. (Once again, an amazing feat.) Now the DNA needs a cell to control.

     Third problem: The synthesized DNA was placed into an existing bacteria cell that had its original DNA expunged. The cell did proceed to “live,” that is, it processed nutrients and reproduced itself as it would have normally. As the resultant cells continued to reproduce, the original enzymes and proteins that make up the structure of the cell were transformed to carry the markers that had been imbedded in the synthesized DNA, thus “proving” that scientists had “created” life in a laboratory.

     I am sure you see why I have called these steps problems:

1. They did not design a living organism. Instead they copied the necessary information from an already living organism.

2. They could not make their copy without using a living organism as a host (active yeast).

3. They used an already living cell! They only thing that was not from already existing life was the DNA instructions of how that cell was to carry on its life. The enzymes, proteins and RNA that are required for a cell to be living were already there before the scientists began their work!

     So they did not create life from scratch. They did prove how complicated living organisms are. They did provide proof of the minimal number of genes necessary for life to exist (which brings the question, could these multiple hundreds of genes have occurred in nature simultaneously without divine intervention?). They did display amazing technical skill at manipulating DNA (in my opinion, supporting the Intelligent Design argument).

     But they did not “create life.”

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