[ExI] DNA pwned by Venter

The Avantguardian avantguardian2020 at yahoo.com
Wed Jun 20 12:50:03 UTC 2007


The video is sort of a "state of biotechnology"
address by fellow biologist Craig Venter. He covers a
wide range of topics that he is currently working on.
Making allowance for his brevity and the consequent
lack of details he gives, most of what he says is
generally achievable.

However his timetable for the development the
artificial chromosome of his minimal organism is very
ambitious. While he may boast of having synthesized a
phage chromosome in a few days, the phage chromosome
was about two orders of magnitude simpler than his
artificial organism whose chromosome length I would
put a lower bound on at about 500kb. Apparently he has
a clever idea on how to go about it using the DNA
repair mechanism  of a most curious bacterium - 
Deinococcus radiodurans. 

While he doesn't give too many details regarding the
method, my best professional guess is that he is using
the DNA repair mechanisms of D. radiodurans to
homologously recombine a great deal many stretches of
overlapping artifical sequence probably between 100bp
(upper limit of directly manufacturable synthetic
sequence) to 20kb (upper limit of PCR product). 

If he can supply several chromosomes worth of
overlapping fragments, the homologous DNA
recombination mechanisms of D. radiodurans should be
able to assemble the chromosome for him. That is if he
can get the homologous recombination to work in vitro.

All told, from his opening joke regarding longevity to
his closing statement regarding bioethics, much of his
talk should be of interest to transhumanists.
Especially if you are wondering what nanotech
molecular assemblers will look like for the next
several decades. They will most likely look a lot like
bioengineered wetware cells making customized enzymes,
biopolymers, and possibly even gasoline out of
sunlight or lawn clippings.

The potential is there and it is technologically
feasible fortwith. But first there are challenges
economic, political, and psychological in nature that
must be overcome:

Will venture capitalists be willing to invest in
technology that renders scarcity, and thereby consumer
economics, obsolete? Will those whose wealth results
from control of resources resort to violence to keep
those resources scarce? Will the majority of people in
democratic countries be able to overcome their fear of
"playing God" or "fooling with Nature"? 

To find out, stay tuned to this Everett branch.

Stuart LaForge
alt email: stuart"AT"ucla.edu

"When an old man dies, an entire library is destroyed." - Ugandan proverb

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