The big news in science over the past few days is the creation, by genome pioneer J. Craig Venter, of a bacterial gene that has been used to take over a cell. In other words, he and his team have created a living bacteria from non-living parts. Venter says that the achievement "is a philosophical advance as much as a technical advance," meaning that it brings up and reinforces profound questions about the essence of life and the distinction between the living and the non-living.
A few of our authors have discussed the implications of Venter's achoevement in an online piece for the journal Nature. Among those weighing in are: Mark Bedau ("Although these questions are controversial and difficult to resolve, society will gain from the effort"): Steen Rasmussen ("But the radical ‘top-down’ genetic engineering that Venter’s team has done does not quite constitute a 'synthetic cell' by my definition); and Arthur Caplan, who coedits our Basic Bioethics series ("Venter and his colleagues have shown that the material world can be manipulated to produce what we recognize as life").
The whole thing is worth a read, as is a recent edited collection on this general edited by Bedau and Emily Parke called The Ethics of Protocells: Moral and Social Implications of Creating Life in the Laboratory.