The Ethics of Protocells: Moral and Social Implications of Creating Life in the Laboratory

Paperback | April 17, 2009

EditorMark A. Bedau, Emily C. Parke

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Teams of scientists around the world are racing to create protocells--microscopic, self-organizing entities that spontaneously assemble from simple organic and inorganic materials. The creation of fully autonomous protocells--a technology that can, for all intents and purposes, be considered literally alive--is only a matter of time. This book examines the pressing social and ethical issues raised by the creation of life in the laboratory. Protocells might offer great medical and social benefits and vast new economic opportunities, but they also pose potential risks and threaten cultural and moral norms against tampering with nature and "playing God." The Ethics of Protocells offers a variety of perspectives on these concerns. After a brief survey of current protocell research (including the much-publicized "top-down" strategy of J. Craig Venter and Hamilton Smith, for which they have received multimillion dollar financing from the U.S. Department of Energy), the chapters treat risk, uncertainty, and precaution; lessons from recent history and related technologies; and ethics in a future society with protocells. The discussions range from new considerations of the precautionary principle and the role of professional ethicists to explorations of what can be learned from society's experience with other biotechnologies and the open-source software movement.

Contributors: Mark A. Bedau, Gaymon Bennett, Giovanni Boniolo, Carl Cranor, Bill Durodié, Mickey Gjerris, Brigitte Hantsche-Tangen, Christine Hauskeller, Andrew Hessel, Brian Johnson, George Khushf, Emily C. Parke, Alain Pottage, Paul Rabinow, Per Sandin, Joachim Schummer, Mark Triant, Laurie Zoloth

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Teams of scientists around the world are racing to create protocells--microscopic, self-organizing entities that spontaneously assemble from simple organic and inorganic materials. The creation of fully autonomous protocells--a technology that can, for all intents and purposes, be considered literally alive--is only a matter of time. T...

Mark A. Bedau is Professor Humanities at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. He is the coeditor of Emergence: Contemporary Readings in Science and Philosophy and Protocells: Bridging Nonliving and Living Matter, both published by the MIT Press in 2008. Emily C. Parke is Business Manager at ProtoLife Srl. Emily C. Parke is Business Manag...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:384 pages, 9 × 7 × 0.62 inPublished:April 17, 2009Publisher:The MIT PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0262512696

ISBN - 13:9780262512695

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"Bedau and Parke's The Ethics of Protocells is a seminal work on the ethical and social implications of creating synthetic life. It should be required reading for anyone entering this field." --Linda MacDonald Glenn, Assistant Professor, Department of Medical Education, Alden March Bioethics Institute. Albany Medical Center