This book by J. Craig Venter, subtitled “From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life,” delivers on the promise implied by its titles, and no one but Venter could have written it. It is mandatory reading for anyone interested in the recent history of molecular biology and/or the future evolution of life on Earth.
Venter, a motorcyclist and former medical corpsman in Viet Nam, is the Thomas Edison of modern genomics. He first became nationally known when in the 1990’s he devised new ways to more rapidly identify the structure of the human genome. This led to frantic efforts by the NIH teams to catch up with Venter’s research group. In the end, they shared the honor of being the first to map the complex DNA of the human species.
His team’s next remarkable achievement was to digitally create a new life form—a living bacterial cell that never previously existed.
Now Venter and the stellar scientists who have gathered at his institute have again done the seemingly impossible. They have created a system for digitally creating new life forms and anti-virus vaccines, transmitting them via the Internet, and reconstructing them in laboratories where they are needed.
The implications of this work are enormous. Venter and his team of outstanding scientists and technicians may well have established the framework for a new era of post-antibiotic, preventive medicine.
Their research on a number of other projects significant for our well-being, including the genetic re-designing of bacteria relevant to the prevention of global warming, is ongoing.
The human race may look back on them with a great deal of affection and gratitude.