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But What Does That Really Mean?

In an opinion piece at The Guardian, Nature's Adam Rutherford says that "the present gains and future benefits of synthetic biology are too great for it to be written off with fear-mongering maxims." He says that while "environmentalists, religious figures and sections of the media regularly use the phrase ["Playing God"] as a handy stick with which to beat those in the field," advances in synthetic biology are critical.

"The ability to design and build biological systems provides a new way to understand how living things work, yet the field is much more about engineering than it is about pure science," Rutherford says. "However, many synthetic biologists are seeking to solve problems in more efficient ways than traditional engineering does, with potential applications ranging from fighting pollution and cancer to manufacturing fuel and drugs."

Over at his blog, Gerhard Adam deconstructs the popular phrase, asking what it really means to 'play God.' He presents a thought experiment:

Consider our ability to cure disease. If we lack that ability, then everything is in the "hands of God" or nature, because we are unable to affect the outcome in any material way. Therefore we are not responsible for the outcome. … Previously we could acknowledge that we were powerless to affect the outcome, but when we can control the outcome, then we have a responsibility to make those types of decisions.

Overall, Adam adds, it's most important to focus on good science and ethical behavior.