Friday, August 07, 2009

Latest EDGE newsletter: A Short Course On Synthetic Genomics by George Church and Craig Venter

I really enjoy getting John Brockman's monthly EDGE email newsletter. It is always filled with incredibly fascinating material and "big ideas." The latest issue, EDGE 296 includes video for "A Short Course On Synthetic Genomics" by George Church and Craig Venter. The short course consisted of six sessions:

  1. Dreams & Nightmares
  2. Constructing Life from Chemicals
  3. Multi-enzyme, multi-drug, and multi-virus resistant life
  4. Humans 2.0
  5. From Darwin to New Fuels (In A Very Short Time)
  6. Engineering humans, pathogens and extinct species

In his introduction entitled "Ape and Essence", George Dyson tells us:

Sixty-one years ago Aldous Huxley published his lesser-known masterpiece, Ape and Essence, set in the Los Angeles of 2108. After a nuclear war (in the year 2008) devastates humanity's ability to reproduce high-fidelity copies of itself, a reversion to sub-human existence had been the result. A small group of scientists from New Zealand, spared from the catastrophe, arrives, a century later, to take notes. The story is presented, in keeping with the Hollywood location, in the form of a film script.

On July 24, 2009, a small group of scientists, entrepreneurs, cultural impresarios and journalists that included architects of the some of the leading transformative companies of our time (Microsoft, Google, Facebook, PayPal), arrived at the Andaz Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, to be offered a glimpse, guided by George Church and Craig Venter, of a future far stranger than Mr. Huxley had been able to imagine in 1948.

In this future -- whose underpinnings, as Drs. Church and Venter demonstrated, are here already -- life as we know it is transformed not by the error catastrophe of radiation damage to our genetic processes, but by the far greater upheaval caused by discovering how to read genetic sequences directly into computers, where the code can be replicated exactly, manipulated freely, and translated back into living organisms by writing the other way. "We can program these cells as if they were an extension of the computer," George Church announced, and proceeded to explain just how much progress has already been made.

Interesting concept, programming DNA the way we program computers. New meaning for the term "base technology."

The full text of the sessions is available online, including a PDF entitled Life: What A Concept!

A lot of amazing stuff there.

No, I personally have not had a chance to dig through it myself.

-- Jack Krupansky

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