Blizzard Bag D Block H. Bio Day 1

Blizzard Bag Lesson Plan 1:
The First Synthetic Cell

     This year in Biology we have covered the characteristics of what make a living organism. Our definition of what it means to be living might start to change. Recently Craig Venter and his team of researchers have created the first synthetic cell.  This bacterium uses the membrane, cytoplasm, and organelles of naturally occurring bacteria but its genome has been completely replaced with an artificial chromosome designed by the scientists. Why do this? Several papers and magazines have looked into this research and that question. Today I would like you to investigate this discovery and discuss its potential and possible consequences.

Step1: Watch this video 60 minutes produced about Craig Venter and his research


If the link doesn’t work, Google “Craig Venter 60 Minutes” and you should be able to easily find it.


Step 2: Read ONE of the following articles on the first synthetic cell.

A New York Times article on the first synthetic cell:

A BBC article on the discovery of the fist synthetic cell:

The original scientific article in Science :

A New York Times article focusing Craig Venter

Step 3: Post a short one or two paragraph reflection on the video and article in the comment section below this blog post. You might want to discuss or try to answer one of the following questions in your post.
  • Do you think the benefits of this technology are worth the risks?
  • Who, if anyone, should decide if this research and technology should continue?
  • What rules or regulations would you put into place to protect the environment?  Should there be any?
  • What other “bugs” (bacteria) can you imagine creating to solve a modern day problem?
  • Are there any other potential problems with this technology you can think of not mentioned in the video or articles?
  • Do you think this bacterium should truly be called synthetic? Why or why not?
  • Would you as a consumer use products made from or using these organisms?  Why or why not?

Step 4: Respond to at least one of the posts by your classmates. You can ask a question or make a follow-up statement. Be polite in your discussion and respect everyone’s opinions even if you are in disagreement.

Grading: This lesson will be graded as a classwork assignment. 50 points will be awarded for your original reflection, and another 50 points for your response to your classmates post. 



30 comments:

  1. Although we have started to discuss the characteristics of life we have not gotten into genetics and cellular biology. Please email if you have any questions on the video or reading.

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  2. It's pretty neat. It's about time we finally started "playing god," because it allows us to do more. If we can actually utilize this discovery, it could lead to some pretty amazing thing she like natural fuel, and oil, and all kinds of things. If we really perfect this we could probably make anything. I don't understand why people would be mad at this. Like Dr. Venter stated, domesticating animals or crops is pretty much the same thing. I think it's a great.

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    1. Also my username is really dumb haha

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    2. I agree with what your talking about that it can be used to do great things that would be of use to us. Also the whole idea that people would be mad about his seems strange because what they don't realize is that this technology was going to be made eventually. It's better that the United States came up with it before other countries so it this technology did turn into a weapon we would be prepared to fight back in need be.

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  3. It's truly incredible the new scientific achievements that have happened recently. The first synthetic cell created by Craig Venter is a simple bacteria that was man made, but it is the stepping towards other possibilities. If more advancements are made from this synthetic cell it is possible that scientists could make food and vaccines faster and easier then before. For many years people have wanted to fix world hunger, and with this new technology it is possible. Even though there are risks to this like, making deadly weapons of mass destruction, the positive things that can come from this outweigh the negative.

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    1. I completely agree with what you think about how it can fix so many things, but I also believe it could change so much in so little time. Everyone reacts to things differently as well, so it could be great for one person but it could go horribly for another.

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    2. I do agree with your idea about fixing world hunger. But I feel like as if we did create mass amounts of food it would take lots of energy to transport this food in mass quantities to reach the communities in the world that are suffering from hunger. I'm not sure how I can see a variety of things being made from this from weapons to food, but I do agree with the idea of stopping world hunger with this process.

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  4. This technology gives you a lot to think about- the good outcomes from this breakthrough and the bad. But for me, mainly what could possibly go wrong. Could we essentially make something that seems "too good to be true" and it eventually turns on us? There is many ways, that we could be fed lies from the scientific community as well, if they're malicious enough to give us something that either has no effect or something terribly wrong only to generate money for "further research". It has shown up in also the BP oil spill situation with their "solution" to the problem. They did not only release toxic substances but they also did not have to prove whether or not they had been safely tested on humans or the environment. In June of last year, Barack Obama had signed a more recent and revised version of the TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act), which should help regulate some of the new experiments that are "ready" to be released. But that does not mean there are no loop holes. We should just be more careful with what we put into the environment, because we may not know what will happen. No matter how much money you may be getting paid, it shouldn't be worth it to possibly destroy the world we live in.

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    1. This is very interesting, June. I think we should be allowed to test these so called "dangerous" experiments if you will, inside safe regions however until proven 100% safe and effective for the environment not let it out into our world for obvious reasons. A true scientist who wants to do good for our environment should understand when is an appropriate time to release whatever it is I think, no matter the money.

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    2. I totally agree that priority number one is to not destroy the world we live in. However I read the BBC article and it said they could possibly create a new life form that absorbs the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere (that is causing environmental issues) and possibly help it. There is a lot that could go wrong and a lot of loop holes to be found.The best we can do is have faith that these scientist will be in it for the greater good and not selfish and/or malicious reasons.

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  6. I think that in order to improve life and create new things, we have to start somewhere and soon because we don't know who the scientists of the world will be in years to come. If they are even more educated compared to the present day (which I imagine they will be) then we will be in good hands. But what if somehow the profession goes downhill and we aren't progressing in any way? We need to keep science alive and active, so I think the benefits are worth the risks.
    If I were in charge I would create regulations to keep everyone safe, including the animals. They should definitely not be contributed and experimented on during these trials because animals have feelings and emotions just like humans. Even if the experiment "should not harm" the test subject, science is unpredictable. Therefore no animals should be tested on, not even a small mouse. They have lives too.

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    1. I agree with you, I think that the benefits would be worth the risks. I also think that they shouldn't experiment on animals with the synthetic cells.

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  7. I think that synthetic cells would be really helpful in the world. We will be able to make new and better vaccines some which could cure cancer. We could be able to make another source of fuel, great things can come from this. The bad thing that could happen is that if it gets into the wrong hands it could be deadly. I think that the United States should keep advancing with it before other countries do.

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    1. I completely agree with you, young Josh. If these cells were to get into the wrong hand it could be deadly and lead to wars. The USA should proceed to advance in these synthetic cells without trying to make weapons out of them.

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    2. I agree with you Josh, however one thing to keep in mind is that there are ways to prevent bioterrorism if the synthetic cells were in the wrong hands. In this article bacteria cells were grown. That means that if it was used to harm people, there is a cure for it (anti-biotics even though in few bacterial infections, the bacteria can be anti-biotic resistant). Synthetic Virology would be more of a danger to human life because there is no cure for a virus and deadly viruses not only spread rapidly but just as rapidly take lives.

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  9. I believe that this creation of the synthetic cell can be very helpful in our world today. We could obtain a new source of fuel from these cells along with vaccines. One bad thing with this new outbreak in science is that these cells, in the future, could be used to make bio-weapons. I believe that these scientists should proceed in developing these sort of cells for good uses and not for bad uses.

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    1. Kobe, I totally agree with you. I think we should be making these new cells and be using them for good and for new resources. We need to make them and keep them in good hands so they don't become a disturbance. It will be very interesting to see what the outcomes are within the next few years and decades.

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    2. I agree, but we should absolutely take advantage of the weapons we could make. As long as we maintain complete control of them, we could become more powerful, and feared,

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  10. I think that the whole idea of synthetic life is a neat idea. I think that we need to be doing what could be dangerous experiments, inside a safe environment, not to damage our natural surroundings. I think that these bacterium are only synthetic if they are truly, completely man made. This idea of man made life is an interesting idea, and I am curious to see what will happen in the next few years, to a decade from now with these experiments, and how it will change our environment and people's thoughts.

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    1. I agree that these synthetic cells could be dangerous to natural life, but I think that, with complete control over how their chromosomes are structured, scientists could design them to fit into previously existing ecosystems. I also don't think that these bacteria need to be completely man made. Scientists could, theoretically, take certain traits from animals and combine them to serve a certain purpose, similar to making glow in the dark rabbits, but more extreme. These creatures would be somewhat 'natural' in that they share natural traits, but they were created by mankind, and are therefore synthetic.

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  11. I believe that synthetic cells would greatly benefit modern medicine and healthcare as well as science. With the right research, new vaccines and new medications to prevent the spread of disease and illness could potentially happen with the use of these synthetic cells. Not only new vaccines and medicines but overtime synthetic organs can be grown which would increase the supply of organs used for transplants; preventing and decreasing the death rate of Americans who die from not getting transplant (which is at 22 deaths per day). With the power of being able to control the synthetic cells and what to do with them, restrictions should be made over time to ensure environment and human safety.

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    1. I agree with Allison completely. With this new technology there are so many new and amazing medical advancements that can be made. These discoveries could lead to cures for illnesses and diseases that affect millions of people. I think it is important to also remember other areas where this is important, such as alternative fuels. But, medical advancements are defiantly one of the most important parts of this achievement. I also agree with what she said about restrictions to ensure safety, when it comes to science like this, safe and security and both very important.

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  12. I am not very fond of this idea. Many, many things can go wrong. The toxins from this process, if not done properly and with care, may kill people, plants, and animals. If these organisms were introduced to or environment, there's no way of finding out how they will react to other organisms that naturally exist. Even if scientists create plants through this process, will they release oxygen? Will they grow with photosynthesis? Although no one will know until it is done, I think it is better to be safe than sorry, even if you will get paid a massive amount a money to do so.

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  14. I believe that synthetic cells are a fantastic achievement. With this new technology we can begin to develop so many new and different ways to better everyday life. Some of this tech can create alternative fuels and cure different types of diseases. Which is a huge deal in this day and age! Not only is this a great step forward for science but it is a big step forward for the economy. Biotech companies are very important and if something that can help people is developed if is a great opportunity for unreal profitability, many new jobs, and new companies which will help our economy, way of life, and planet. Granted, this technology needs to be handled delicately. It is important for it to not fall into the wrong hands or used for not so beneficial things. But, with proper regulations I think it would be very safe and productive. It's important to keep moving forward with this discovery, it is truly the future. Ignoring it and hiding it is just going to delay future discoveries of things that could be very beneficial to society. Yes, with discovery comes risk but if synthetic cells and other advancements are safely taken care of then, it's a risk we should take. I like it and I think it's the way of the future.

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  15. I think that this breakthrough could lead to an amazing future. The way humanity is currently going, we're going to burn through the resources currently on earth and be left with nothing. With synthetic cells, however, we can have bacteria create clean energy sources that are safe for the environment. It also seems like it could be a huge step in medical science. You could create an organism specifically made for destroying cancer cells, or curing any number of diseases. There are some risks, but I think it's unlikely that any of these synthetic cells will cause any real problems currently, as they're designed to be unable to survive outside of a lab.

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  16. The first synthetic cell is certainly a marvel and a breakthrough. I read the BBC article about the matter and it said that in the future it could possibly even create a life form to absorb carbon dioxide and help the environment, which could quite literally save the earth or at least make it last a bit longer. It also states that it could create new vaccines and cures, which would be another scientific breakthrough on its own and a miracle to many families. Of course there are some risks to that. However I personally do not think it is necessary to use it to "play god" your child is your child you shouldn't feel the need to control its eye color or the way they look. I think that might turn society on its head if it gets too out of control.

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