Italian bishops say first synthetic life cell could be devastating step

THE creation of the world’s first synthetic living cell could be a “devastating” step, senior Roman Catholic bishops have warned.

Scientists in the US say they developed the cell, by constructing a bacterium’s “genetic software” and then transplanting it into a host cell.

“In the wrong hands, today’s novelty could lead to a devastating step into the unknown tomorrow,” said Bishop Domenico Mogavero, head of the legal affairs commission for the Italian Episcopal Conference.

“Man comes to God, but he is not God: he remains human and he has the possibility to give life through procreation, not through constructing it artificially.”

Geneticist Craig Venter, who created the synthetic cell, said that the method could be used to design bacteria specifically to help produce biofuels or to clean up environmental hazards.

“We call it synthetic because the cell is totally derived from a synthetic chromosome, made with four bottles of chemicals on a chemical synthesizer, starting with information in a computer,” he said.

Religious leaders fear that scientists are “playing God”.

“It is human nature which gives its dignity to the human genome, not the inverse. The nightmare to be fought is the manipulation of life,” Bishop Mogavero told the Italian daily La Stampa.

Bruno Forte, archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, in central Italy, said: “The worry can be resumed in one question – is what is scientifically possible also just from an ethical point of view?”

He addedv that he admired modern research and that the Church was not “fundamentally” opposed to it but was carefully monitoring it.

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