“Venter instills awe for biology as it is, and as it might become in our hands.” —Publishers Weekly
On May 20, 2010, headlines around the world announced one of the most extraordinary accomplishments in modern science: the creation of the world’s first synthetic lifeform. In Life at the Speed of Light, scientist J. Craig Venter, best known for sequencing the human genome, shares the dramatic account of how he led a team of researchers in this pioneering effort in synthetic genomics—and how that work will have a profound impact on our existence in the years to come. This is a fascinating and authoritative study that provides readers an opportunity to ponder afresh the age-old question “What is life?” at the dawn of a new era of biological engineering.
Venter (A Life Decoded), a field giant of genetics, makes a persuasive case that synthetic biology will help us understand, appreciate, and improve our own biology. The impatient genius who arrogantly raced the U.S. government to sequence the human genome, Venter scores many "firsts" in this emerging field, including the creation nearly from scratch of the first synthetic bacterium. It was not a pure "first," as he used cytoplasm from an existing cell to boot up his synthetic genome which only deviated slightly from the genome of an existing bacterium. But it's a major coup; Venter's synthetic genome successfully instructed the cell to create living proteins. We can now change the software of life, which then changes its own hardware, as it were. Venter shares spellbinding stories from the frontiers of genomics researchers creating living toolboxes out of mechanisms co-opted from varied life forms. For the wary, he notes nature itself mixes and matches species-specific mechanisms: our own mitochondria were once bacteria engulfed by, and incorporated into, our cells. Gene engineering opens new portals of life-designing potential, he argues, and he champions ethics reviews of such work. Venter instills awe for biology as it is, and as it might become in our hands.