Scientists this week announced that they have successfully created a synthetic cell that can self-replicate. Big deal, you might say. Cells have been self-replicating since the first single-celled organisms evolved into multi-celled organisms and eventually into platypuses and Lindsay Lohan.
But the big difference here is that the cell was created in the laboratory, not by nature, and the implications are mind-boggling. You could theoretically create new cells to replace faulty ones or even design your own organism, something that doesn’t exist in nature. Someday we might actually be able to walk into a store and purchase a “Create Your Own Creature” kit. Igor not included.
Of course, there are sure to be ethical and religious objections to scientists playing God and altering the natural order of things. The Vatican this week commented on the achievement by calling it “interesting,” which I believe is Catholic for “don’t you dare go near that.”
But man playing God aside, think of the possibilities. We could, conceivably, create the perfect human, which is an oxymoron if I ever heard one. Physically, of course, that would be wonderful. No more diseases, no more obesity, no more baldness, no more handicaps, no more doctors, no more insurance companies, etc.
But we’re more than just our physical selves. We’re all products of our environment, our upbringing, our education and our cultures, all of which can’t be controlled in the laboratory. Well, maybe cultures can but only the kind you find in a Petri dish. Dr. Frankenstein would be the first to tell you that a perfect body “or bodies” with the wrong kind of mind isn’t a real improvement.
For instance, could we build the perfect politician? That seems to be what everyone is calling for these days. The overwhelming sentiment of voters seems to be that there’s something wrong with the politicians we’ve got so let’s replace them with new ones or, better yet, build some from scratch.
But the problem with humans playing God is which humans are building the new politicians. If we could all agree on what we wanted in the perfect politician we probably wouldn’t need them in the first place. And many of us can’t even seem to agree with ourselves over what we want in a politician.
Take, for example, the events of the past month. Many of the same people who have been calling for less government and denouncing the federal bailouts and takeovers of banks, automakers and big business are now the same people screaming for the government to step in and take over the oil spill crisis in the gulf and clean it up.
As long as we remain politically schizophrenic, we’ll never be completely satisfied with whomever or whatever we put in office. Science has and continues to make huge strides in perfecting the human body but not the perfect human. Because, in the end, nobody’s perfect.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEMS Daily Journal