Leading edge genetics scientist Craig Ventor has reportedly indicated he is close to creating synthetic life from scratch. Ventor is famous for creating the first cell with a synthetic genome, and before that for being one of the first to sequence the human genome.
About 6 months ago, for the first time researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute managed to simulate a whole organism with software. They are now aiming to do translate that to real life. Speaking at the Global Grand Challenges Summit in London this week, Ventor said, “We think we’re close, but we’ve not submitted a paper yet.”
Ventor is not attempting to engineer artificial life just for the sake of it, although it would be a significant historical event to say the least. Somewhat controversially, one of his lofty goals is to create artificial life that could serve to eat pollution, or generate clean forms of energy on a large scale.
For instance, Ventor is attempting to engineer a form of algae that could produce a lot more bio-oil than is currently possible from algae, so biofuel could be produced in sufficient quantities to replace crude oil drilled from the ground. It’s a very tall order indeed, but Ventor has said, “We’ve been able to increase photosynthesis threefold, meaning that we get three times as much energy per photon [of sunlight] as from natural algae”.
How long do you think it will be before we have completely synthetic or artificial lifeforms created by humans in the world? Are humans on the verge of driving evolution to some extent, by designing new lifeforms from scratch?
Image CC licensed by Steve Jurvetson: Craig Ventor