Following the Miller-Urey experiment where we were able to produce organic compounds with basic primitive atmospheric gases, high potential and water in a closed system. Have we been able to create a living organism fully functional with only inanimate material (dead material, or atoms, or anything that is not coming from a living organism such as a clone, or already existing DNA)?

I mean building a living organism from scratch. Are we able to do this?

  • $\begingroup$ We have not been able to do this, though whether or not we can in a reasonable time scale is unknown. $\endgroup$
    – Zhe
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ We've made organisms with 6 different nucleotides (instead of 4) though. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ Do you have a source to support this? I'm guessing it's more prion or virus looking than plant or sheep looking... $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ sciencealert.com/… and phys.org/news/2017-01-scientists-stable-semisynthetic.html $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 15:53
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The most recent paper on the subject is Feldman et al. 2017. They worked on E. coli. This video by Sciencium (same author of Veritasium) report their findings for the general public. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 15:54

1 Answer 1


It depends on your definitions.

we have built organisms with an entirely synthetic genome. basically the genome was "printed" from a computer file and inserted in a cell which had its DNA removed, it continued to function and replicate just fine.

We have not built a modern cell from scratch, mostly because even the simplest living cells today need to compete with other more complex cells so they are still extremely complex in their own right. The simplest possible cells would never survive in the current world due to competition and "predations" so we don't know exactly how it has to be arranged to function.

You may want to look at the much more modern experiments like the Urey-miller one, Jack Szostak has been trying to work up to what you are looking for, his lab has created RNA from abiotic (non-life) sources.
This is probably the closest since we know a slightly longer sequences of RNA can be self-replicating. And Harvard scientists have put manufactured self replicating RNA in an artificial lipid capsule and gotten it to function. Getting the right sequence of RNA to form by itself is possible but would probably need several billion repetitions of the first experiment.


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