|Andy Zaayenga's Pick of the Month from the LabAutopedia Book List|
By Andy Zaayenga
Life at the Speed of Light:
From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life
By J. Craig Venter
Venter (A Life Decoded), a field giant of genetics, makes a persuasive case that synthetic biology will help us understand, appreciate, and improve our own biology. The impatient genius who arrogantly raced the U.S. government to sequence the human genome, Venter scores many "firsts" in this emerging field, including the creation—nearly from scratch—of the first synthetic bacterium. It was not a pure "first," as he used cytoplasm from an existing cell to boot up his synthetic genome—which only deviated slightly from the genome of an existing bacterium. But it's a major coup; Venter's synthetic genome successfully instructed the cell to create living proteins. We can now change the software of life, which then changes its own hardware, as it were. Venter shares spellbinding stories from the frontiers of genomics—researchers creating living toolboxes out of mechanisms co-opted from varied life forms. For the wary, he notes nature itself mixes and matches species-specific mechanisms: our own mitochondria were once bacteria engulfed by, and incorporated into, our cells. Gene engineering opens new portals of life-designing potential, he argues, and he champions ethics reviews of such work. Venter instills awe for biology as it is, and as it might become in our hands.
About the Author
Publisher: Viking Adult, October 17, 2013