Jun 6, 2010

Another Giant Leap for Mankind: Synthetic Life Achieved May 20, 2010

J. Craig Venter is not known for charm, but he is undoubtedly one of the most effective scientists of all time, certainly on a par with Isaac Newton, though they both stood on the shoulders of giants. Dr. Venter decoded the human genome; in fact, his own genome. He personally dived the Sargasso Sea to collect hundreds of yet-to-fore unknown organisms and will decode their genomes thereby enriching our knowledge and likely opening new opportunities to enrich our lives.

Do take the time to view Dr. Venter's May 20, 2010, 18:18 minute video explaining the synthetic life project.

So, why haven't the news channels been yammering about it 24/7 like they do for comparatively trivial events? I am unencumbered by any real knowledge so this is pure speculation, but I suggest that the reason for relative disinterest is Dr. Venter has already set up the scaffolding for a commercial venture to exploit this achievement and therefore it is too crass. News people might say that they don't want to be unwitting (or unpaid) advertisers for Dr. Venter. Or maybe the science necessary to explain the project well is too esoteric and the ramifications too mind-boggling for journalists to capture?

I believe that Dr. Venter has already convened a legal entity that has filed patents for his truly innovative processes. I believe that license terms have already been drafted and funding and partnership deals are already underway for joint research, etc. therefore the traditional route for reporting scientific breakthroughs, namely publish in Nature, has already been rejected. So is this a case of a highly structured marketing plan negating the free publicity of a news frenzy?
The Science Channel has already broadcasted two one-hour programs on synthetic life -- one about the project itself and another with bio-ethicist and a priest, hosted by Paula Zahn who did everything she can to sensationalize and sound the alarm about the dangers and threats this discovery may pose.

Feedback from a MicroBiologist
Talked to a microbiologist who I trust today. She said she had read some of the discussion in the science community about Venter's announcement.   They seem to feel that what he and his team did was a proof of concept, putting a puzzle together, not a big step forward. The pro-Venter faction say that people scoffed at the Wright brothers as well.

I can't help thinking that Venter's personality probably did not win him many supporters. Politics pervade all endeavors.

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