[ExI] Fwd: Edge 296: George Church-Craig Venter Master Class on Synthetic Genomics; Edge Summer Reading

Bryan Bishop kanzure at gmail.com
Thu Aug 6 16:06:51 UTC 2009

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Scott Kerr <uwskerr at gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Aug 6, 2009 at 11:00 AM
Subject: Fwd: Edge 296: George Church-Craig Venter Master Class on
Synthetic  Genomics; Edge Summer Reading
To: diybio at googlegroups.com

6 hours of talks by Church and Venter.  I haven't watched yet but
should be interesting.



---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Edge <editor at edge.org>
Date: Thu, Aug 6, 2009 at 4:05 AM
Subject: Edge 296: George Church-Craig Venter Master Class on
Synthetic Genomics; Edge Summer Reading
To: Scott Kerr <uwskerr at gmail.com>

Edge 296 - August 5, 2009

(7,000 words)


This online EDGE edition with streaming video is available at:


Recent and forthcoming titles from Edge Contributors

Chris Anderson, W. Brian Arthur, John Barrow, Thomas Bass, Jeremy
Bernstein, Susan Blackmore. Stewart Brand, John Brockman, Max
Brockman, David Buss, Nicholas Christakis, Andy Clarke, Gregory
Cochran,Jack Cohen, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, Stanislas Dehaene,
Keith Devlin, Denis Dutton, Freeman Dyson, David Eagleman, Todd
Feinberg, James Fowler, Howard Gardner, Anthony Giddens, Daniel
Goleman, Alison Gopnik, Susan Greenfield, Haim Harari, Henry
Harpendening, Gerald Holton, Nicholas Humphrey, George Johnson, Steven
Johnson, Stephen H Kellert, Marek Kohn, Ray Kurzweil, Jaron Lanier,
Jonah Lehrer, John McWhorter, Thomas Metzinger, Oliver Morton, David
G. Myers, Richard E. Nisbett, Alva Noe, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Dean
Ornish, John Allen Paulos, Alex (Sandy) Pentland, Irene M. Pepperberg,
Clifford Pickover, David G. Post, Douglas Rushkoff, Karl Sabbagh,
Scott Sampson, Al Seckel, Clay Shirky, Gavin Schmidt, Tom Standage,
Bruce Sterling, Ian Stewart, Steven Strogatz, Colin Tudge, She
rry Turkle, Antony Valentini, E.O. Wilson, Lewis Wolpert, Richard
Wrangham, Carl Zimmer


Edge Master Class 2009
George Church & J. Craig Venter

On July 24, 2009, a small group of scientists, entrepreneurs, cultural
impresarios and journalists that included architects of the some of
the leading transformative companies of our time (Microsoft, Google,
Facebook, PayPal), arrived at the Andaz Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in
West Hollywood, to be offered a glimpse, guided by George Church and
Craig Venter, of a future far stranger than Mr. Huxley had been able
to imagine in 1948.

In this future -- whose underpinnings, as Drs. Church and Venter
demonstrated, are here already -- life as we know it is transformed
not by the error catastrophe of radiation damage to our genetic
processes, but by the far greater upheaval caused by discovering how
to read genetic sequences directly into computers, where the code can
be replicated exactly, manipulated freely, and translated back into
living organisms by writing the other way. "We can program these cells
as if they were an extension of the computer," George Church
announced, and proceeded to explain just how much progress has already
been made. ...

-- George Dyson, from The Introduction

GEORGE CHURCH, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and
Director, Center for Computational Genetics, and Science Advisor to 23
and Me, and J. CRAIG VENTER, Founder of Synthetic Genomics, Inc. and
President of the J. Craig Venter Institute and the J. Craig Venter
Science Foundation, taught the Edge Master Class 2009: "A Short Course
In Synthetic Genomics" at The Andaz Hotel in West Hollywood, the
weekend of July 24th-26th. On Saturday the 25th the class traveled by
bus to Space X near LAX, where Sessions 1-4 were taught by George
Church. On Sunday, the Class was held at The Andaz in West Hollywood.
Craig Venter taught Session 5 and George Church taught Session 6. The
topics covered over the course of a rigorous 2-day progam of six
lectures included:

What is life, origins of life, in vitro synthetic life, mirror-life,
metabolic engineering for hydrocarbons & pharmaceuticals,
computational tools, electronic-biological interfaces,
nanotech-molecular-manufacturing, biosensors, accelerated lab
evolution, engineered personal stem cells, multi-virus-resistant
cells, humanized-mice, bringing back extinct species, safety/security

The entire Master Class is available online in high quality HD Edge
Video (about 6 hours).


Stewart Brand, Biologist, Long Now Foundation; Whole Earth Discipline
Larry Brilliant, M.D. Epidemiologist, Skoll Urgent Threats Fund
John Brockman, Publisher & Editor, Edge
Max Brockman, Literary Agent, Brockman, Inc.; What's Next: Dispatches
on the Future of Science
Jason Calacanis, Internet Entrepreneur, Mahalo
George Dyson, Science Historian; Darwin Among the Machines
Jesse Dylan, Film-Maker, Form.tv, FreeForm.tv
Arie Emanuel, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment
Sam Harris, Neuroscientist, UCLA; The End of Faith
W. Daniel Hillis, Computer Scientist, Applied Minds; Pattern On The Stone
Thomas Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy for the White House Office of
Science and Technology Policy and Senior Advisor for Science,
Technology and Innovation for the National Economic Council
Salar Kamangar, Vice President, Product Management, Google
Lawrence Krauss, Physicist, Origins Initiative, ASU; Hiding In The Mirror
John Markoff, Journalist, The New York Times; What The Dormouse Said
Katinka Matson, Cofounder, Edge; Artist, katinkamatson.com
Elon Musk, Physicist, SpaceX, Tesla Motors
Nathan Myhrvold, Physicist, CEO, Intellectual Ventures, LLC, The Road Ahead
Tim O'Reilly, Founder, O'Reilly Media, O'Reilly Radar
Larry Page, CoFounder, Google
Lucy Page Southworth, Biomedical Informatics Researcher, Stanford
Sean Parker, The Founders Fund; CoFounder Napster & Facebook
Ryan Phelan, Founder, DNA Direct
Nick Pritzker, Hyatt Development Corporation
Ed Regis, Writer; What Is Life
Terrence Sejnowski, Computational Neurobiologist, Salk; The Computational Brain
Maria Spiropulu, Physicist, Cern & Caltech
Victoria Stodden, Computational Legal Scholar, Yale Law School
Nassim Taleb, Essayist & Risk Engineer, The Black Swan
Richard Thaler, Behavioral Economist, U. Chicago; Nudge
Craig Venter, Genomics Researcher; CEO, Synthetic Genomics, A Life Decoded
Nathan Wolfe, Biologist, Global Virus Forecasting Initiative
Alexandra Zukerman, Edge



Tim O'Reilly, Ed Regis, Victoria Stodden, Jesse Dylan, George Dyson,
Alexandra Zukerman on "A Short Course on Synthetic Genomics"

Founder, O'Reilly Media, O'Reilly Radar

George Church asked "Is life a qualitative or quantitative question?"
Every revolution in science has come when we learn to measure and
count rather than asking binary qualitative questions. Church didn't
mention phlogiston, but it's what came to mind as a good analogy. Heat
is not the presence or absence of some substance or quality, but
rather a measurable characteristic of a complex thermodynamic system.
Might not the same be true of life? ...

Writer; What Is Life?

Almost fifteen years ago, in a profile of Leroy Hood, I quoted Bill
Gates, who said: "The gene is by far the most sophisticated program
around." ... At the Edge Master Class last weekend I learned the
extent to which we are now able to reprogram, rework, and essentially
reinvent the gene. This gives us a degree of control over biological
organisms -- as well as synthetic ones -- that was considered
semi-science fictional in 1995. Back then scientists had genetically
engineered E. coli bacteria to produce insulin. ...

Computational Legal Scholar, Yale Law School

Craig Venter posed the question whether it is possible to reconstruct
life from its constituent parts. Although he's come close, he hasn't
done it (yet?) and neither has anyone else. Aside from the intrinsic
interest of the question, its pursuit seems to be changing biological
research in two fundamental ways encapsulated Venter's own words ...

Film-Maker, Form.tv, FreeForm.tv

What a revelation the The Master Class in Synthetic Genomics was. In
addition to being informative on so many literal levels it reinforced
the mystery and wonder of the world. George Church and Craig Venter
were generous to give us a glimpse of where we are today and fire the
imagination of where we are going. It's all science but seems beyond
science fiction -- living forever, reprogramming genes, resurrecting
extinct species. ...

Science Historian; Darwin Among the Machines

We speak of reading and writing genomes -- but no human mind can
comprehend these lengthy texts. We are limited to snippet view in the
library of life.

As Edge's own John Markoff reported from the recent Asilomar
conference on artificial intelligence, the experts "generally
discounted the possibility of highly centralized superintelligences
and the idea that intelligence might spring spontaneously from the
Internet." ...

Assistant Editor, Edge

As the meaning of George Church and Craig Venter's words permeated my
ever-forming pre-frontal cortex at The Master Class, I cannot deny
that I felt similarly to the way George Eliot described her own
emotions in 1879. Eliot, speaking as Theophrastus in a little-known
collection of essays published that year, predicts that evermore
perfecting machines will imminently supercede the human race in
"Shadows of the Coming Race:"

When, in the Bank of England, I see a wondrously delicate machine for
testing sovereigns, a shrewd implacable little steel Rhadamanthus
that, once the coins are delivered up to it, lifts and balances each
in turn for the fraction of an instant, finds it wanting or
sufficient, and dismisses it to right or left with rigorous justice;
when I am told of micrometers and thermopiles and tasimeters which
deal physically with the invisible, the impalpable, and the
unimaginable; of cunning wires and wheels and pointing needles which
will register your and my quickness so as to exclude flattering
opinion; of a machine for drawing the right conclusion, which will
doubtless by-and-by be improved into an automaton for finding true
premises -- my mind seeming too small for these things, I get a little
out of it, like an unfortunate savage too suddenly brought face to
face with civilisation, and I exclaim --

'Am I already in the shadow of the Coming Race? and will the creatures
who are to transcend and finally supersede us be steely organisms,
giving out the effluvia of the laboratory, and performing with
infallible exactness more than everything that we have performed with
a slovenly approximativeness and self-defeating inaccuracy?' 1 ...




Synthetic Life
By John Markoff

There is a growing consensus (at least in Silicon Valley) that the
information age is about to give way to the era of synthetic genetics.
That was underscored recently when Harvard geneticist George Church
and J. Craig Venter -- of the race to decode the human genome fame --
gave lectures before a small group of scientists, technologists,
entrepreneurs, and writers in West Hollywood.

The event, billed as "A Short Course on Synthetic Genetics", was
organized by John Brockman, the literary impresario (and book agent
for several New York Times reporters, including this one) who
publishes the cybersalon-style website www.edge.org, a forum dedicated
to scientists (many of whom are his clients) and their ideas.

In roughly six hours of lectures both scientists tried to convey how
the world will be changed by the ability to routinely read genetic
sequences into computing systems and then store, replicate, alter and
insert them back into living cells. ...



When Science & Poetry Were Friends
By Freeman Dyson

.....If the new Romantic Age is real, it will be centered on biology
and computers, as the old one was centered on chemistry and poetry.
Candidates for leadership of the modern Romantic Age are the biology
wizards Kary Mullis, Dean Kamen, and Craig Venter, and the computer
wizards Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Charles Simonyi. Craig Venter is
the entrepreneur who taught the world how to read genomes fast; Kary
Mullis is the surfer who taught the world how to multiply genomes
fast; Dean Kamen is the medical engineer who taught the world how to
make artificial hands that really work.

Each achievement of our modern pioneers resonates with echoes from the
past. Venter sailed around the world on his yacht collecting genomes
of microbes from the ocean and sequencing them wholesale, like Banks
who sailed around the world collecting plants. Mullis invented the
polymerase chain reaction, which allows biologists to multiply a
single molecule of DNA into a bucketful of identical molecules within
a few hours, and after that spent most of his time surfing the beaches
of California, like Davy who invented the miners' lamp and after that
spent much of his time fly-fishing along the rivers of Scotland.

Dean Kamen builds linkages between living human brains and mechanical
fingers and thumbs, like Victor Frankenstein, who sewed dead brains
and hands together and brought them to life. Page and Brin built the
giant Google search engine that reaches out to the furthest limits of
human knowledge, like William Herschel, who built his giant forty-foot
telescope to reach out to the limits of the universe. Simonyi was
chief architect of software systems for Microsoft and later flew twice
as a cosmonaut on the International Space Station, like the intrepid
aeronauts Blanchard and Jeffries, who made the first aerial voyage
from England to France by balloon in 1795. ...




The engrossing essay collection which offers a youthful spin on some
of the most pressing scientific issues of today--and tomorrow...Kinda
scary? Yes! Super smart and interesting? Definitely.
THE OBSERVER'S Very Short List

"A captivating collection of essays ... a medley of big ideas."
Amanda Gefter, NEW SCIENTIST

"The perfect collection for people who like to stay up on recent
scientific research but haven't the time or expertise to go to the
original sources."


Vintage Books

If these authors are the future of science, then the science of the
future will be one exciting ride! Find out what the best minds of the
new generation are thinking before the Nobel Committee does. A
fascinating chronicle of the big, new ideas that are keeping young
scientists up at night.
- Daniel Gilbert, author of STUMBLING ON HAPPINESS

"A preview of the ideas you're going to be reading about in ten years."
- Steven Pinker, author of THE STUFF OF THOUGHT

"Brockman has a nose for talent."
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author THE BLACK SWAN

"Capaciously accessible, these writings project a curiosity to which
followers of science news will gravitate."


Edited by John Brockman With An
Introduction By BRIAN ENO

Harper Perennial

The world's finest minds have responded with some of the most
insightful, humbling, fascinating confessions and anecdotes, an
intellectual treasure trove. ... Best three or four hours of intense,
enlightening reading you can do for the new year. Read it now."

"The splendidly enlightened Edge website (www.edge.org) has rounded
off each year of inter-disciplinary debate by asking its heavy-
hitting contributors to answer one question. I strongly recommend a

"A great event in the Anglo-Saxon culture."

"As fascinating and weighty as one would imagine."

"They are the intellectual elite, the brains the rest of us rely on to
make sense of the universe and answer the big questions. But in a
refreshing show of new year humility, the world's best thinkers have
admitted that from time to time even they are forced to change their

"Even the world's best brains have to admit to being wrong sometimes:
here, leading scientists respond to a new year challenge."

"Provocative ideas put forward today by leading figures."

The world's finest minds have responded with some of the most
insightful, humbling, fascinating confessions and anecdotes, an
intellectual treasure trove. ... Best three or four hours of intense,
enlightening reading you can do for the new year. Read it now."

"As in the past, these world-class thinkers have responded to
impossibly open-ended questions with erudition, imagination and

"A jolt of fresh thinking...The answers address a fabulous array of
issues. This is the intellectual equivalent of a New Year's dip in the
lake - bracing, possibly shriek-inducing, and bound to wake you up."

"Answers ring like scientific odes to uncertainty, humility and doubt;
passionate pleas for critical thought in a world threatened by blind

"For an exceptionally high quotient of interesting ideas to words,
this is hard to beat. ...What a feast of egg-head opinionating!"


This online EDGE edition with streaming video is available at:

Edge Foundation, Inc. is a nonprofit private operating foundation under
Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

John Brockman, Editor and Publisher
Russell Weinberger, Associate Publisher
Alexandra Zukerman, Editorial Assistant

Copyright (c) 2009 by EDGE Foundation, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Published by EDGE Foundation, Inc., 5 East 59th Street, New York, NY

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