Can human beings create life? Apparently! Geneticist Craig Venter gives a speech on how scientists are making the switch from reading DNA, to making it from scratch. As Venter puts it, this is a case where the software (DNA) builds its own hardware (an organism).
We know that the speed of DNA sequencing (reading all of the letters in an organism’s genetic code) has picked up a lot since scientists began trying, about ten years agoVenter’s lab can now sequence 100 million letters of DNA every 24 hours.
Venter’s Sorcerer II expedition continues to catalogue ocean life, filtering water every 200 miles to find all of the tiny organisms in it, and sending their DNA back to the lab for sequencing. He is also part of a project in New York City to measure how many microbes live in the air and get breathed in by New Yorkers.
Although the sequencing project is far from complete, DNA synthesis is already being carried out. Scientists synthesized a 5000 base-pair virus in two weeks, which went on to attack and kill a bacterial cellin other words, they not only made the DNA, but they got it right.
It sounds a little scary, creating life, but Venter doesn’t hesitate to go into the ethics of the whole project, and where they hope to go with it. The team has discovered thousands of tiny organisms who live off of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, or methane (all considered greenhouse gases or pollutants). These compounds are captured from the environment, metabolized, and converted into other things. Imagine the possibilities for carbon sequestration or even for energy production!