National Geographic : 1976 Sep
(Continued from page 390) going on in the universe on a large scale," said Caltech biologist Norman Horowitz matter-of-factly. Faced with such evidence, many scientists conclude that on countless warm planets, not too far from the billions of suns like ours, life, much as we know it, must exist. D ESPITE THE RAPID PROGRESS of recent years, I finished my survey feeling that the new biology has, in fact, opened up more questions than it has an swered. Many are profound social questions, and we must begin grappling with them now: Do we have the right to develop novel forms of life for our own purpose? Should we try to control our own physical destiny? If so, who is to decide what man should become? Dare we try to manufacture genes to cure ill ness, knowing that such techniques can spawn the weapons of a horrible biological war? Should we seek to manipulate the immune system to make all types of organ transplants commonplace-with the possibility that some lives might be extended indefinitely? How do we protect the diversity of our species from those who might want to "im prove" it with clones of its ideal specimens? Many ethical decisions will have to be made someday, particularly as the new biol ogy advances our knowledge of the mind. Fortunately, the human brain still confounds science. Even if we knew all there is to know about how a cell works, we would still be baffled. How nerve cells create emotions, thoughts, behavior, memory, and other per ceptions cannot yet, if indeed ever, be de scribed in the language of molecular biology. Despite these ever-present weighty ques tions, I returned from my biological journey with literally a new perspective on life. Every trip produces new acquaintances. But what an unforgettable crew I had met this time! When I breathe now, I often think of all that my mitochondria are doing for me. When I eat, I know my ribosomes have been busily assembling enzymes to digest my dinner. When I catch cold, I root for my antibodies and hope that my lysosomes will dine well on the intruding germs. Most often, however, my thoughts return to that dollop of DNA I stirred at Caltech. After all, how often can anyone say he has looked so closely at the basic mystery of life? ] Who's out tlhee? Scattered through interstellar space and found in meteorites, organic molecules seem plentiful across the universe. Where else could life have evolved? Astronomers calculate about a billion billion livable planets with primitive atmo spheres like those swirling in Dr. Ponnamperu ma's flasks (left). In 1974 a powerful coded radio signal, converted here to a multicolored visual display (above), was sent into space from the giant antenna at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The stick figure in red might amuse or confuse our cosmic cousins. But they should recognize the blue spirals. Because whoever else is out there is probably made of DNA.