The New York Times explains:
In the approach toward which Dr. Venter is driving, engineers would specify the entire genetic code of a cell — essentially the software that runs the cell — on computers, making design changes as if on a word processor. They would then press the “print” button, so to speak, and the DNA would be manufactured from its chemical components. The synthetic DNA would then be transplanted into an existing cell, where it would “boot up” and take control of the cell’s operations.
This is essentially what Dr. Venter’s team announced in May. It synthesized the million-letter genome of a simple bacterium, the longest synthetic piece of DNA produced so far, and transplanted it into a slightly different type of bacterium, which then began to replicate. A critic called the synthetic creature Synthia, a name that has started to stick.
And what fish, as it were, is Craig Venter setting out to fry via synthetic biology?
Answer: transforming the whole petrochemical industry. Here’s the New York Times again:
“Designing and building synthetic cells will be the basis of a new industrial revolution,” Dr. Venter says. “The goal is to replace the entire petrochemical industry.”
A new industrial revolution.
Think about that.
And it occurs to me that if you combine Craig Venter’s audacious biotechnology plans with KR Sridhar’s Bloom Box fuel cells, then you have two really good reasons to be hopeful about humanity’s collective economic, intellectual, and social future (prosperous and comfy people tend to be happy, nonfanatical, and peaceful people). Over the next century, science appears poised to bring us a Promethean world where energy is clean, cheap, and abundant, and where biology conforms to our whims. In other words, more than at any other time in human history, we shall be as gods, having stolen fire from heaven and the gnosis of life from our cthonian mother (Earth).
In short, if you tend to be a pessimist, cheer up. Your children’s future looks good. The secrets of life and energy that have kept human beings down for so long are on the verge of being deciphered. Here’s 60 Minutes on the Bloom Box (in case you haven’t heard about it):
And Part 2 of the 60 Minutes segment is here.