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New Life
by Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover
Cellular biologists have scored yet another breakthrough – they have succeeded in creating an artificial life form.
If you are envisioning a Frankenstein-like freak, you can calm your fears. This new invention does not involve cooking up a new species in a test tube or mixing together a clay and bringing it to life. The technology available to do that is still light years away. What Dr. Craig Venter and his team did was something else entirely. He took a bacteria of one species, extracted its original DNA, and inserted into it a synthetic, genetically engineered DNA sequence. The new species of bacteria which "came to life" as a result now functions and reproduces according to the instructions in its new strand of DNA.
This feat is reminiscent of the concept of techiat hameisim, resurrection of the dead, which we are promised will happen sometime during the Messianic era. The DNA serves as the command center of the cell; it is intimately involved in every cell process, like the brain of a more sophisticated organism. From a biological perspective, we can call the DNA the "soul" of the cell. Without it the cell would die. The DNA of one organism can give "life" to an organism of a different species.
This process cannot be portrayed as creating new life (since, in essence, the implanted DNA is not original material). However, the success of scientists in genetic manipulation suggest a productive future: genetically engineered bacteria can be used to clean up oil spills, to create oil out of seawater, and to treat air pollution. They can also serve as advanced pharmaceuticals, to produce antibiotics in the bloodstream as needed. Scientists assure us that these genetically engineered bacteria will not run amok and wreak havoc (such as causing superinfections or consuming all the water or oil in the universe) since its genetic code will contain only genes controlled by scientists.
As we know, however, scientists are often far too confident in the product of their own hand and too reluctant to acknowledge their possible adverse outcomes. In contrast, the process of techiat hameisim, as envisioned by our sages, will have no such drawbacks. G-d Himself will rebuild each body, starting from the indestructible luz bone in the spine. Death will be eradicated completely, and so will the destructive capabilities of all life forms. Every creature and organism will serve a productive purpose, towards a harmonious existence for all of creation.

Biotechnology serves as a model and a foretaste of the great revelations that lay before us – engineered by the One Who envisioned, created and formed all of us, as we are now and as we will be in the very near future.

Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover is chairman of the Center of Magnetohydrodynamic Studies and Training at Ben-Gurion University.



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