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      Is the creation of artificial life morally significant?

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          Highlights

          • Artificial organisms need not pose greater risks than derived organisms.
          • The creation of artificial life would not support any form of biological reductionism.
          • Artificial life forms might have uncertain functional status.
          • But this is irrelevant to their moral status.
          • The genealogy of an organism makes no difference to its moral status.

          Abstract

          In 2010, the Venter lab announced that it had created the first bacterium with an entirely synthetic genome. This was reported to be the first instance of ‘artificial life,’ and in the ethical and policy discussions that followed it was widely assumed that the creation of artificial life is in itself morally significant. We cast doubt on this assumption. First we offer an account of the creation of artificial life that distinguishes this from the derivation of organisms from existing life and clarify what we mean in asking whether the creation of artificial life has moral significance. We then articulate and evaluate three attempts to establish that the creation of artificial life is morally significant. These appeal to (1) the claim that the creation of artificial life involves playing God, as expressed in three distinct formulations; (2) the claim that the creation of artificial life will encourage reductionist attitudes toward the living world that undermine the special moral value accorded to life; and (3) the worry that artificial organisms will have an uncertain functional status and consequently an uncertain moral status. We argue that all three attempts to ground the moral significance of the creation of artificial life fail, because none of them establishes that the creation of artificial life is morally problematic in a way that the derivation of organisms from existing life forms is not. We conclude that the decisive moral consideration is not how life is created but what non-genealogical properties it possesses.

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          Most cited references 18

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          Creation of a bacterial cell controlled by a chemically synthesized genome.

          We report the design, synthesis, and assembly of the 1.08-mega-base pair Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 genome starting from digitized genome sequence information and its transplantation into a M. capricolum recipient cell to create new M. mycoides cells that are controlled only by the synthetic chromosome. The only DNA in the cells is the designed synthetic DNA sequence, including "watermark" sequences and other designed gene deletions and polymorphisms, and mutations acquired during the building process. The new cells have expected phenotypic properties and are capable of continuous self-replication.
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            Functions as Selected Effects: The Conceptual Analyst's Defense

             Karen Neander (1991)
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              Essays on Actions and Events

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci
                Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci
                Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
                Elsevier
                1369-8486
                1879-2499
                1 December 2013
                December 2013
                : 44
                : 4
                : 688-696
                Affiliations
                [a ]Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Suite 8, Littlegate House, St. Ebbes Street, Oxford OX1-1PT, United Kingdom
                [b ]Department of Philosophy, Boston University, 745 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215, USA
                Article
                S1369-8486(13)00084-8
                10.1016/j.shpsc.2013.05.016
                3878377
                23810562
                © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.

                This document may be redistributed and reused, subject to certain conditions.

                Categories
                Article

                Philosophy of science

                function, genetic engineering, moral status, reductionism, synthetic, artificial life

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                Cited by 1

                Most referenced authors 143