It could, for example, fill a prescription for insulin, provide flu vaccine during a pandemic or even produce phage viruses targeted to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It could help future Martian colonists by giving them access to the vaccines, antibiotics or personalised drugs they needed on the red planet. And should DNA-based life ever be found there, a digital version could be transmitted back to Earth, where scientists could recreate the extraterrestrial organism using their own life-printing box.
"We call it a Digital Biological Converter. And we have the prototype," says Venter. I am visiting the office and labs of Venter's company
The west coast office of the
The book, Venter's second after his 2007 autobiography, is called Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life. It looks at the future Venter is aiming to create through his scientific endeavours in synthetic biology, a kind of turbo-charged version of genetic engineering where scientists design new biological systems - even synthetic life - rather than just tweaking existing organisms by inserting a gene here or there.
In 2010, Venter grabbed the attention of headline writers and scientists around the world by announcing what he calls the "world's first synthetic life". He took a synthetic bacterial genome constructed from chemicals in the laboratory and, as Venter puts it, "booted it up" by inserting it into a living single-celled bacterium. The cell replicated itself into a colony of organisms containing only the synthetic DNA.
"It is like a whole new concept of life that until our experiment, no one had," he says. It was later reviewed by the
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