Biocode: The New Age of Genomics
Dawn Field, Neil Davies
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The living world runs on genomic software - what Dawn Field and Neil Davies call the 'biocode' - the sum of all DNA on Earth. In Biocode, they tell the story of a new age of scientific discovery: the growing global effort to read and map the biocode, and what that might mean for the future. The structure of DNA was identified in 1953, and the whole human genome was mapped by 2003. Since then the new field of genomics has mushroomed and is now operating on an industrial scale. Genomes can now be sequenced rapidly and increasingly cheaply. The genomes of large numbers of organisms from mammals to microbes, have been mapped. Getting your genome sequenced is becoming affordable for many. You too can check paternity, find out where your ancestors came from, or whether you are at risk of some diseases. Some check out the pedigree of their pets, while others turn genomes into art. A stray hair is enough to crudely reconstruct the face of the owner. From reading to constructing: the first steps to creating artificial life have already been taken.
Some may find the rapidity of developments, and the potential for misuse, alarming. But they also open up unprecedented possibilities. The ability to read DNA has changed how we view ourselves and understand our place in nature. From the largest oceans, to the insides of our guts, we are able to explore the biosphere as never before, from the genome up. Sequencing technology has made the invisible world of microbes visible, and biodiversity genomics is revealing whole new worlds within us and without. The findings are transformational: we are all ecosystems now. Already the first efforts at 'barcoding' entire ecological communities and creating 'genomic observatories' have begun. The future, the authors argue, will involve biocoding the entire planet.
creatures is long and growing daily; about species go extinct each day. Famous historical losses include the dodo, passenger pigeon, Tasmanian tiger, and moa. Since genomes can be rejuvenated, it is now theoretically possible to use genomics and cloning to revive extinct species—but should we?72 At the time of writing, the closest we have come to de-extinction is the case of the Spanish bucardo, a species of wild goat. A tree fell and crushed the last burcado in the early s, so scientists
away from the language of war to the language of ecology. It reﬂects a more nuanced approach that views our microbiota primarily as our oldest ally—one that provides us with health-associated ecosystem services.146 It is another example of how genomics is disrupting our sense of identity and leading to new paradigms. We are carrying around a whole little world inside us, but where did it come from and why do we have it? What does it really do for us? What would we be like without it? Answers are
practices.206 Smarr’s initial motivation for self-tracking was to lose weight. His radical P journey started innocently enough; he aimed to lose pounds after a move to sunny Southern California, the land of beautiful people, from the Midwest. Smarr tripled the number of steps he took each day. His REM periods of deep sleep, the most valuable periods of sleep, accounted for more than half the time he spent asleep, twice the typical proportion for a man of his age. His blood chemistry appeared
lingua franca of life—means that most of the DNA technologies developed for humans are immediately applicable to other species. As a consequence, we are now applying them to the animals and plants we love best: those domesticated species we share our lives with—or eat. Most US states ban wolf–dog hybrids as being too aggressive and unpredictable to serve as pets. Might a litter of puppies result from your pet’s illicit tryst with a wolf? This could sound far-fetched and yet it is estimated that
know shit. But we are learning fast. In , Alm and Mark Smith established OpenBiome, which maintains a stool bank: ‘Samples are homogenized, ﬁltered and frozen for long-term storage, providing physicians with a standardized, convenient source of material.’ ENDNOTES . . . . . . . . . It is cool shit. Eventually, Alm and others envisage that we will learn enough about the ‘active ingredients’ in the stool transplants to develop synthetic communities for a