It’s been a good month for miracles. And by miracles I mean our oldest miracle, that first miracle, the creation of life itself.
During these first weeks in May, two separate teams working at two separate institutions announced that when it comes to creating life from scratch, well, there are a couple of new gods in town.
Of course, if we’re talking about creating life from scratch, we most first mention the old gods, which is to say, this is when biologist Craig Venter comes into the discussion.
A few decades back, while he was working to read the human genome (i.e. the Human Genome Project), Venter also began wondering what it would take to write one. He wanted to know, “what does the minimal genome required for life look like?”
Back then, DNA synthesis technology was too crude and expensive to consider writing a minimum genome for life, but exponential advances in biotechnology obliterated these problems. Consider “synthetic biology,” which moves the work from the molecular to the digital. In syn-bio, genetic code is manipulated using the equivalent of a word processor. With the press of a button, DNA can be cut and pasted, effortlessly imported from one species into another. Single letters can be swapped in and out with precision. And once the code looks right? Just hit send. A dozen different DNA print shops can now turn these bits into biology.