Evolving our definition of life into a spectrum

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By Nichole Cubbage
@NicholeCubbage
Aug 14, 2017,  9:55 AM

Life: something so meaningful and precious to most, yet something that can actually be quite difficult to define. Even though life is something that has existed for millions of years, and even though it is something we all must go through and embrace on different levels, it seems rather strange that it could be so difficult to pinpoint an exact idea of what it really is.  

 

For example, some philosophers believe that life is something that’s only experienced when one is born into the world, whereas others believe that life is something that begins in utero, perhaps at conception, or at a certain point in pregnancy; now contrast this with a philosopher who believes that life is the conglomerate of experiences that can only be obtained as one physically and/or mentally develops.  

 

The same story can be applied to the broad field of science. A biologist may say that an organism is one that needs to maintain homeostasis to be considered "living," or that an organism must be able to maintain its metabolism to be considered "living." A microbiologist may ask, "what about viruses or other like organisms?" The point has been made- defining "life," or even what is "living" is not an easy thing to accomplish. 

 

Scientists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) recently announced: “That they have successfully created the first-ever, fully stable semi-synthetic living organism.” 

 

The organism is "semi-synthetic" as it contains DNA strands that are essentially half man-made. When DNA replicates, it essentially splits into two strands to take one side and copy it while simultaneously creating a new second strand of DNA, ultimately creating a new double helix. As everyone continuously moves into the future, this kind of "semi-synthetic" story paves the way for questions that will also come about as humans continue to experiment with the intertwining of their bodies and minds with artificial intelligence.  

Impact (ONLY use the 'Paste From Word' button to safely copy and paste text from a Word doc) 

Is life definable to one specific form? Or is it possible that life is a spectrum on which artificial intelligence and viruses are included, and perhaps also the semi-synthetic blends of these life forms? Or is it the case that inorganically made forms of life are simply not "living" at all, even if they are inorganic in the slightest way?  

 

How do we account for people who need consistent blood transfusions or people who require medical technology, including biotechnology and nanotechnology, to live? Regarding the larger impact, how will these decisions impact social policies and norms in the future? 

Public Release Date: 
2025 to 2030
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