Richard Dawkins, J. Craig Venter, Nobel laureates Sidney Altman and Leland Hartwell, Chris McKay, Paul Davies, Lawrence Krauss, and The Science Network’s Roger Bingham discuss the origins of life, the possibility of finding life elsewhere, and the latest development in synthetic biology. More than 2500 people filled ASU Gammage Auditorium on Saturday, February 12 to listen to this remarkable collection of scientists whose particular perspectives range from the cosmic to the microscopic. “The Great Debate: What is Life?” was sponsored by the ASU Origins Project in partnership with the Science Network, J. Epstein Foundation and the NASA Astrobiology Institute. The evening followed on the heels of its successful inaugural debate in November 2010, “The Great Debate – Can science tell us right from wrong?”
Tagged with “craig venter” (3)
Scientist and entrepreneur Craig Venter made headlines in 2000 when he was one of the first to sequence the human genome.
Now, he’s announced another big step: the creation of synthetic life in a laboratory – a bacterium with a cooked-up, man-made genetic code.
The breakthrough could eventually lead to tailor-made organisms and big benefits in medicine, energy and beyond.
But what about the ethics – and the risks – of making life in a lab?
To really read DNA accurately and understand it thoroughly, you need to be able to write it from scratch and make it live, Venter explained.
His sequencing the first diploid human genome (with the genes from both parents) last year showed there is much more genetic variation between humans than first thought. His current goal is to fully sequence 10,000 humans and bring the price for each sequence down to $1,000. With that data, his says, “We’ll begin to really learn what’s nature and what’s nurture.”
“Microbes make up one half of the Earth’s biomass.” Venter’s shotgun sequencing of open-ocean microbial samples revealed that every milliliter of ocean has one million bacteria and archaea and ten million viruses even in supposedly barren waters. Taking samples on a round-the-world sailing trip showed that every 200 miles the genes in the microbes are 85% different.
“Microbes dominate evolutionary diversity,” Venter said. Some 50,000 major gene familes have been discovered. Humans and other complex animals have a small fraction of that in our own genes, but the “microbiome” of our onboard microbes carry the full richness. Only 1/10th of the cells in a human are human; the rest are microbes. There are 1,000 species in our mouths, another 1,000 in our guts, another 500 on our skins, and those with vaginas have yet another 500 species.