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But it could soon happen right here on Earth, according to a handful of chemists and biologists who are using the tools of modern genetics to try to generate the Frankensteinian spark that will jump the gap separating the inanimate and the animate. The day is coming, they say, when chemicals in a test tube will come to life.
...Dr. Joyce’s molecule is a form of RNA, assembling proteins in accordance with the blueprint encoded in DNA. Neither RNA nor DNA is alive by itself, any more than any other chemical. But in Dr. Joyce’s test tube, his specially engineered RNA molecule comes close, copying itself over and over, and evolving.
So far, he said, his work has shown that manmade molecules can evolve over successive generations. “They can pass information from parent to progeny, they can mutate,” Dr. Joyce said. “They can win or die.”