In early 2010, it was widely reported on internet news sites that biotech guru Craig Venter and his team have created "artificial life." BBC News has a good description of what was really done:
1. The scientists "decoded" the chromosome of an existing bacterial cell - using a computer to read each of the letters of genetic code.
2. They copied this code and chemically constructed a new synthetic chromosome, piecing together blocks of DNA.
3. The team inserted this chromosome into a bacterial cell which replicated itself. Synthetic bacteria might be used to make new fuels and drugs.
(See "'Artificial life' breakthrough announced by scientists," BBC News, May 20, 2010.)
The operative phrase above is, "They copied this code." Venter and his team showed they can successfully identify the code necessary for a living bacterial cell. They sequenced the code, imported the code into a computer, and then outputted it.
But we still don't even understand how all the parts of a bacterial cell work. As biochemist Russell Doolittle wrote in a Nature paper titled "Microbial genomes multiply":
And note also that they had to import the code into a pre-existing bacterial cell. That means that any epigenetic information that exists outside of the DNA was borrowed from the bacterial cell that they inserted the chromosome into -- not created from scratch. As Elizabeth Pennisi's newspiece in Science on the research observed:
The Science newspiece also observed, "So that the assembled genome would be recognizable as synthetic, four of the ordered DNA sequences contained strings of bases that, in code, spell out an e-mail address, the names of many of the people involved in the project, and a few famous quotations." If these bugs are let loose and then rediscovered in 1000 years, will researchers be unjustified in inferring intelligent design when they find e-mail addresses, names, and famous quotes encoded into the genome of this bacteria?
Venter's technical paper in Science said:
So now that intelligent agents have synthesized the DNA-based "software" necessary for life, another question arises: What, in our experience is the sole known cause of this software? William Dembski and Jonathan Witt think they have the answer in Intelligent Design Uncensored: "[T]here remains one and only one type of cause that has shown itself able to create functional information like we find in cells, books and software programs--intelligent design." (p. 90)
It seems to me that rather than creating "artificial life," what they did was figure out how to plagiarize the intelligent designer's programming.