I think it is another one of those areas where technology is advancing faster than the laws that may be necessary to regulate it. Unfortunately, sometimes people are not finding out what the possibilities and limits are until something happens to bring a case to court. The ability to patent lifeforms has been approved by the courts, and that has led to consequences that were probably not intended. Watch Food, Inc. if you haven't already.
I'm not too worried about this since it is not like these guys managed to take dead stuff and bring it to life. "All" (and it's pretty impressive...) that they did was to create a DNA sequence that could run on its own when injected into an already living cell. So it's not like Frankenstein taking body parts and sewing them together and making the creature come alive.
As long as they are just able to do little microscopic things, I think that it's pretty much okay. They need to be sure that nothing they are creating could get loose and destroy the world, though...
Artificial life is really a controversial topic. Many people will argue and say that man does not have the right to create life, only God does. So, it becomes a religious matter. In my opinion, I believe it depends on what they have created and what they are going to use it for.
I am not aware of the exact nature of work at the J. Craig Venter Institute relating to creating artificial life. However, in general I believe that creation of life in laboratory can result in creation of many unanticipated and so far unimaginable harmful developments. Some of these unexpected results could be good. But as a general rule of the universe, unintended accidents are much more likely to be harmful than beneficial.
One major defining characteristic of life form is that it is capable of multiplying itself. Also we know that rudimentary forms of life can mutate very easily. Also primitive forms of life multiply very fast. Thus this combination of very fast mutation and multiplication of artificial life forms can be very dangerous.
I am not suggesting that there should be no attempt to create life artificially. But definitely great caution and regulation of this activity is required to ensure that any potential problem does not escalate to uncontrollable proportions.
I agree that the impending global issues are a huge threat, however I believe that instead of trying to create further 'solutions' which could have many, many risks, some of which could even end up endangering the environment further, I think that we need to take a step back and look at the way we are living. I suggest this because I think humanity needs to make a sacrifice now for our planet which has been slowly sacrificing it's survival by force, force from us, so that instead of continuing to live in the unhealthy and detremental way we are at the moment, and cut back on many of the unneccesary and harmful aspects of society. Slash find much cleaner and greener ways of living. One huge issue that I'm very suprised still hasn't been approached, is finding another renewable source for paper. Because of the amount of forests we are evicting to build further infrastructure, I think we need all the trees we can get to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide which is harmful to the ozone (which is responsible for the impending global warming, and further potential ice age), and produce more oxygen.
Given the devastating environmental problems which are staring mankind straight in the face (and our obvious reluctance to take those problems seriously), then we need to unleash science and let it search for clean and green solutions. Bio-tech is at the very fore-front of this search for clean solutions.
Forget the weird-science 'Frankenstein' scenarios and forget about 'playing' God ethics. Start worrying about the global catastrophe of unrestricted CO2 emissions. We have already 'Played God' by radically and irresponsibly altering the atmosphere of our one and only home. Only science can clean up this choking planet.
I agree, science is definately progressing at a frighteningly fast pace, and I think the biggest issue about that is that there isn't enough time to predict all the risks that could arise. In particular, cloning and genetic modifiation and engineering has showed some unexpected consequences, for example most people know of Dolly the sheep, who aged much faster than the original sheep and got arthites. If Dolly was an identical genetic clone, why would she age twice as fast? Is it really fair or right to be performing these experiments without knowing what sort of pain and suffering we could be inflicting? Although, in saying that, I guess the experiments need to be done in order for us to see and understand the risks and side-effects, we have to make mistakes to learn. But I'm still scared that the scientists will get so excited about the new discovery of artificial life that they will skip precautions and things could go wrong.
Well I think that's the fear most people have with the concept of artificial life forms - where do you draw the line and what you can create? The rate at which science is developing, they could probably be creating organisms that are viewable to the naked eye soon, and that's when we should probably get a little worried.