The ancient Greeks thought the world was made of earth, air, fire and water - the original four elements.
The idea was refined through time because of the work of alchemist who sought a way to transmute lead into gold.
Gradually these alchemists recognized materials that could be broken down no further, and the list of four elements was scrapped.
At the beginning of the 1800s, the consensus scientific opinion was that the chemical compounds found inside living organisms was simply too complex to be made in the laboratory, or "in vitro" (in a glass container). Such chemicals could only be made "in vivo" (in something alive) because it required the intervention of the so-called "vital force." These special compounds were called "organic" because they came from organisms. The other stuff was called "inorganic" (not organic).
Then a terrible wonderful thing happened: in 1828 a chemist named Friedrich Wohler showed that the "organic" compound called urea could be synthesized from an inorganic compound called ammonium cyanate.
The mental barriers now broken, a new age of organic synthesis began. It is because of this that we have plastics and many of the beneficial drugs we enjoy today.
In March of 2010 a team of biochemists working with J. Craig Venter took four synthetic amino acids, linked them together in the same sequence in which they are found in a naturally-occurring bacteria, injected that artificial DNA into a cell, and the cell began reproducing the artificial DNA.
No big deal? That's what they said about the first flight of the Wright brothers, and less than a century after that "insignificant start," man walked on the moon.