THIS might seem like a strange thing to label as an anomaly, but no one knows what life is. Researchers have even given up trying to define it. Now they are just trying to understand it by making it from scratch. It sounds like an audacious, ridiculously ambitious project, but it isn’t really. After all, what makes you so special? You are made up of lifeless chemicals; what makes you alive?
Craig Venter is one person trying to find out. He is stripping out a bacterium, and then refilling it with a synthesised genome to create what he considers to be artificial life. But others say he’s just tinkering, re-engineering. A project at Los Alamos, headed up by Steen Rasmussen, is looking to create something that’s alive from a collection of chemicals, most of which you could buy at the supermarket. Will it come alive? After having a nervous lunch in Los Alamos with Rasmussen (the place spooked me out), I’m not convinced it will be something I would ever call life. But maybe that’s because it’s too worrying. What would it mean for our concept of ourselves if we created life?