There's a race on among scientistsÂ to take the lead in creating synthetic life, and a number of experts say we're three to 10 years away from pulling off the feat. To the winner goes bragging rights to a potential new approach to treating diseases. There are three main scientific hurdles: Creating a membrane that can contain good molecules and keep bad molecules at bay; a genetic system that will allow the cell to mutate and grow in response to its environment; and a metabolism that will allow the cell to scavenge for food and transform that food into energy. Jack Szostak at Harvard Medical School says that researchers are already close to solving the first problem, with fatty acids acting as the likely candidate for a container membrane. The second step may be solved by adding the right number of nucleotides and then letting nature take its course. In their first iteration, this synthetic life will be too weak to survive very long. As for eventually taking over the world, he adds, that is the stuff of science fiction.
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