The Ethics of Protocells
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From Basic Bioethics

The Ethics of Protocells

Moral and Social Implications of Creating Life in the Laboratory

Edited by Mark A. Bedau and Emily C. Parke

Experts explore the potential benefits, risks, and moral aspects of protocell technology, which creates simple forms of life from nonliving material.

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Author(s)

Praise

Summary

Experts explore the potential benefits, risks, and moral aspects of protocell technology, which creates simple forms of life from nonliving material.

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

Hardcover

$12.75 S ISBN: 9780262012621 384 pp. | 9 in x 7 in 2 tables

Paperback

$34.00 X ISBN: 9780262512695 384 pp. | 9 in x 7 in 2 tables

Editors

Mark A. Bedau

Mark A. Bedau is Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Reed College, Adjunct Professor of Systems Science at Portland State University, and Editor-in-Chief of the MIT Press journal Artificial Life.

Emily C. Parke

Emily C. Parke is Business Manager at ProtoLife Srl.

Endorsements

  • 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