J. Craig Venter is the pioneering cartographer of the human genome, the sequence of which he and other scientists mapped in 2000. The WorldPost recently spoke with this modern Prometheus about the promises and perils of being able to read, write and edit the human genome.
Venter: "Biological evolution has taken three and a half or four billion years to get us where we are. Social evolution has been much faster. Now that we can read and write the genetic code, put it in digital form and translate it back into synthesized life, it will be possible to speed up biological evolution to the pace of social evolution. On a theoretical basis, that gives us control over biological design. We can write DNA software, boot it up to a converter and create unlimited variations on biological life."
Venter: "This year is the fifth anniversary of when my team produced the first synthetic cell. To do that, we took the ones and zeroes in the computer, rewrote the genetic code from four bottles of chemicals and booted that up to get a self-replicating cell. That means we now have the power to start controlling evolution.
We’re doing this now in cells that can change manufacturing and create a new industrial revolution by creating synthetic food, chemicals and even building materials. Ultimately, as we begin to better understand our own genetic code, we can edit the human genome -- as some Chinese scientists disturbingly did earlier this year.
So we have the power to do it. But we clearly do not have the wisdom to do it or the knowledge to do it in a safe fashion. That is why many of us involved in the science have suggested a moratorium on any human changes until we understand the full consequences of our interventions.
In the end, however, it is inevitable that we will not be able to control ourselves. Using knowledge to eliminate horrific diseases from the population is going to be an overwhelming temptation. The flip side of eliminating disease will also be irresistible because we have learned now how to improve intelligence and how to improve athletic abilities -- in short, how to make better people."
Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald