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What is life? Can we make it?

Is "synthetic biology" on the point of making life? Unlike genetic engineering or biotechnology, the new discipline is not about tinkering with biology but about remaking it. Risks and rewards will be greater than anything yet encountered

By Philip Ball   August 2004

Two years ago American scientists created life. Or did they? It all depends on what you mean by life. More specifically, it depends on whether you are prepared to regard viruses as living entities. Viruses have genes, and they replicate, mutate and evolve, all of which sounds lifelike enough. And in August 2002, a team at the State University of New York (SUNY) announced that it had made a virus from scratch, by chemistry alone.

What this meant was that, for the first time since life began over 3.5bn years ago, a living organism had been created with genetic material…

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