In this short contribution we explore the historical roots of recent synthetic approaches in biology and try to assess their real potential, as well as identify future hurdles or the reasons behind some of the main difficulties they currently face. We suggest that part of these difficulties might not be just the result of our present lack of adequate technical skills or understanding, but could spring directly from the nature of the biological phenomenon itself. In particular, if life is conceived as autonomy in open-ended evolution, which would help to explain the highly complex and dynamic organization of the simplest known organisms (i.e., genetically-instructed cellular metabolisms), external synthetic implementations of such systems, or interventions on them, are bound to interfere with some of their characteristic transformation processes, both at the ontogenetic and phylogenetic scales. In any case, this will prove very revealing and productive, technologically and scientifically speaking, since the knowledge gathered from those implementations/interventions will be extremely valuable in establishing our capacities and limitations to fully comprehend, utilize, and expand the living domain as we know it today.
Artificial lifeAutonomous systemsFabricationGenetic engineeringMetabolismOpen-ended evolutionOrigins of lifeSynthesis