August 20, 2002 | David F. Coppedge

Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week:  Let Darwin Take Over

Jack Szostak (Harvard Medical Center) wins this week’s prize for a comment in an Associated Press article (see PhysOrg) claiming that scientists will create life in a test tube within 10 years.  Szostak was explaining the process of creating a cell membrane to the reporter:

His idea is that once the container is made, if scientists add nucleotides in the right proportions, then Darwinian evolution could simply take over.
    “We aren’t smart enough to design things, we just let evolution do the hard work and then we figure out what happened,” Szostak said.

Several international organizations, such as ProtoLife in Venice, are in the competition to “create life from scratch,” the article claims.  Creating synthetic life will need to overcome three hurdles: the membrane, the genetic code, and the metabolism.  It’s the membrane that Szostak had said was “not a big problem.”
    Mark Bedau of ProtoLife tried to assure the reporter that artificial life will not get out and run amok.  He claims artificial cells will be too weak to pose a risk: “But them getting out and taking over, never in our imagination could this happen.”

One of our readers thought that Szostak’s entry deserved to be called “Stupid Evolution Quote of the Century.”  But then, there are already too many entries in that category.  Tryouts are opening for the millennium class.
    Reality check: they are not creating life from scratch; they are copying existing technology.  To really make life from scratch, they would have to start by inventing the universe.  Copying the packaging, coding, and metabolism of existing life is a huge, huge head start.  These guys think they are dumber than Darwinism, and they are right.  Are they the ones you would trust to tell us that synthetic biology will be safe?

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