Biologist J. Craig Venter is known mainly for fusing high end computing to the genome mapping process which has enabled him to map out the human genome in a process he calls "Digitized Biology." But will his breakthroughs lead us down the path to creating true synthetic life?
Venter’s new book, Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life, discusses the history and future of biological engineering. Venter believes that with the proper technology he can digitize DNA in one location and then send the data to another to be physically created; a process he calls “Biological Teleportation.” For example, you could digitize the sequence for an antidote, then send the information to a specialized 3D printer type of device that would actually create the serum. The ability to download medicines would have a revolutionizing effect not just on the pharmaceutical industry, but on society itself, as people could conduct virtual check-ups where their doctor could literally send them the prescriptions they require.
Unfortunately the process has a dark side; if the technology fell into the wrong hands it could be used for bio-terrorism. Difficult, and in some cases, impossible to cure viruses could be created and unleashed on an unwitting and unsuspecting populace. Craig is not unfamiliar with the ethical concerns and suggests that government regulation is the key. The only problem is the speed at which the new technology advances might be far faster than our regulators can keep up with.
Should Venter and fellow researchers continue on this path? Or is this perhaps a situation where remaining a “theoretical” is the better option? Either way, it is exciting to watch what advancements men and women like J. Craig Venter come up with with each passing day.
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