Center of Science, Policy and Society Programs: AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion
AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion
News & Events: Public LectureThe Assembly of Protocells
Thursday, 1 December 2005
1200 New York Avenue, NW,
This lecture will discuss efforts to assemble minimal self-replicating nanomachines from nonliving organic and inorganic matter. These protocells do not necessarily look anything like life-as-we-know-it. For example, the current protocell design does not have a single biomolecule in common with a modern living cell and the protocell is also about a million times smaller than a modern cell. This research is not concerned about the historical details of the origins of life, but more about how nonliving matter can self-organize into living matter. At the same time this work is likely to inform research about the origins of life on Earth as well as possible origins of life elsewhere. If this research is successful and it becomes possible to make general self-replicating materials, this will provide the basis for a very powerful technology. It will be possible to engineer systems based on the same principles as living systems, which will be robust, autonomous, self-repairing, adaptive, and even self-replicating if necessary. Such systems will be very different from watches, computers or cars of today. These are fragile, and if any of their parts break they must be repaired. In comparison, if the skin on your hand is scratched, it heals itself. Living technology will act in the same manner. Although such living technology will not appear for many years, it will come. With the appearance of this enabling technology a number of societal, ethical, and religious issues emerge. It is important to begin to give consideration to these issues now.
Steen Rasmussen, Ph.D., Team Leader, Self-Organizing Systems, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Peter Madsen, Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for the Advancement of Applied Ethics and Political Philosophy, Carnegie Mellon University