Turning an inanimate object into life: Researcher Cece Decker and his team think it’s possible

Making something lifeless. It may sound like science fiction, but physicist Cees Dekker and his team will receive at least €40 million from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research to make it happen. How does it work and what are the ethical objections associated with this ambitious plan? Dekker talks about this in Op1 with researcher Lotte Asveld.

It was announced this week that five groups of Dutch scientists will together receive €174 million to conduct ten years of research. The big winner of these five groups was Cees Decker and his team, who will investigate how life arises and attempt to create life themselves. He will receive at least 40 million euros for this.

One of the greatest secrets of science

However, there’s no need to be afraid of Frankenstein’s new monster. The goal of the research is to understand the principles of building living systems. So no limbs or organs will be created, Decker says. “We know from research that cells are alive, they can grow and divide. A single molecule cannot do that. It happens somewhere in between. “It is one of the greatest mysteries of science,” explains the passionate researcher.

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Such pioneering research is always accompanied by ethical questions. Will researchers play God? What are the risks? Fellow researcher Lotti Asfeld thinks about this in detail and looks forward to the social discussion on this topic.

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Ultimately, the question remains whether this unique project will actually succeed. Fellow researcher Lotti Asfeld is hopeful: she estimates the chance of turning an inanimate object into life at 75%. Decker does not dare attach a percentage to it and does not know whether he will succeed in 10 years. But he has no doubt that it can be achieved: “Otherwise we would not have invested so much time and money.”

Watch the entire conversation here.

Megan Vasquez

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