Posted May 22, 2010 by The Underground Staff in Commentary and News

Catholic Church issues cautionary warning on synthetic cell

The Catholic Church issued recently a cautionary warning on the first synthetic cell, noting that correctly used, it could be a positive development—but only God can create life.

The Vatican issued the warning after an announcement from the United States that researchers had produced a living cell containing manmade DNA.

The scientist, genome-mapping pioneer J. Craig Venter, said this opens a path for designing organisms that may work differently from how nature intended, according to The Herald, Scotland.

The Church warned scientists of the ethical responsibility of scientific progress and said that the manner in which the innovation is applied in the future will be crucial, according to the Associated Press.

“If …it is for the good of all, of the environment and man..we’ll keep the same judgment (that it is a great scientific discovery),” said Monsignor Rino Fisichella.

“If, on the other hand, the use of this discovery should turn against the dignity of and respect for human life, then our judgment would change,” the AP reported.

Fisichella, who heads Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, stressed there is no necessary clash between science and faith.  “But we think above all about the meaning that must be given to life,” Fisichella said.  “We need God, the origin of life,” the AP reported.

Venter’s synthetic cell is actually Mycoplasma mycoides, a type of living bacteria that is commonly associated with mastitis in goats, according to The Herald, Scotland.

Venter’s Mycoplasma mycoides are synthetic because it was made with synthetic chemicals, transplanted and activated into a cell with manmade genetic instructions.  Venter’s team is now considering creating algae that can capture carbon dioxide from the air and produce hydrocarbon fuels, according to SiliconIndia.

Naysayers however doubt that making Mycoplasma mycoides is tantamount to the creation of “artificial life.”

On the other hand, Julian Savulescu, Professor of Practical Ethics at Oxford, said “We need new standards of safety evaluation for this kind of radical research, and protection from military or terrorist misuse and abuse,” according to SiliconIndia.

The Catholic Church teaching holds that human life is God’s gift, created through natural procreation between a man and woman.  The Vatican said the first synthetic cell “must have rules, like all the things that touch on the heart of life,” according to the AP.

U.S. President Barack Obama asked that the commission develop recommendations about any actions the government should take “to ensure that America reaps the benefits of this developing field of science while identifying appropriate ethical boundaries and minimizing identified risks,” SiliconIndia reported.

Meanwhile Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, said “Any form of intelligence and any scientific acquisition must always be measured against the ethical dimension, which has at its heart the true dignity of every person.”