Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves

Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves

George M. Church

Language: English

Pages: 304

ISBN: 0465075703

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

“Bold and provocative… Regenesis tells of recent advances that may soon yield endless supplies of renewable energy, increased longevity and the return of long-extinct species.”—New Scientist

In Regenesis, Harvard biologist George Church and science writer Ed Regis explore the possibilities—and perils—of the emerging field of synthetic biology. Synthetic biology, in which living organisms are selectively altered by modifying substantial portions of their genomes, allows for the creation of entirely new species of organisms. These technologies—far from the out-of-control nightmare depicted in science fiction—have the power to improve human and animal health, increase our intelligence, enhance our memory, and even extend our life span. A breathtaking look at the potential of this world-changing technology, Regenesis is nothing less than a guide to the future of life.

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example is that of mirror life. Mirror people, as we have seen, would be immune to nearly all current pathogens, and their sperm and eggs would be incompatible with ours. Their blood and tissues would be immunologically rejected too (see Chapter 3). One scenario for the distant future is the appearance of the technological singularity, an idea that goes back to 1847 when Richard Thornton wrote about “thinking machines,” that they might “remedy all their own defects and then grind out ideas

(UC-Berkeley), Emmanuelle Charpentier (Umeå University), and their colleagues published a biochemical analysis of a small part of the CRISPR story, the ninth associated protein, called Cas9, as found in the fairly obscure bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes. They discovered that two Cas9 RNAs (or a fusion of the two) recognize the genome based on twenty base pairs and cleave it. Although Cas9 was from a bacterium, it seemed like it might lead to a way to move multiplex genome engineering (MAGE,

Technology Review had already mutated Ed’s phrase into a “playful” headline: “Wanted: Surrogate for Neanderthal Baby.” The misunderstanding was blamed on the German translation and on the British tabloids, but this was not really a mistranslation. Rather, a tech-savvy journalist (Susan Young) had assumed that her humorous headline would not be taken literally. Regardless, this secondhand story was picked up by many thirdhand news agencies, spawning headlines like “Harvard Professor Seeks Mother

of the its own genes, and redirect those processes on themselves. At that point, the viral genome has taken over the organism, and some minutes later, with its own enzymes firmly in command of the cell, the virus has been replicated tens to hundreds of times. The final step—lysis, “bursting”—is the climax of the process. Under the Microscope, a collection of photographs taken with electron microscopes, graphically depicts the very moment of the cell’s destruction: a malign-looking fleet of new

a shape resembling a Dali-esque odalisque with a double-stranded collar and belt. Between 1977 and 1981, based on the first folded RNA structure (tRNA, Figure 3.1), Ned Seeman and I invented ways to design and establish morphology from the basic base pairing rules of RNA and DNA (G with C, and A with U/T, Figure 1.4). We can now design and build atomically precise shapes swiftly and with generally high yield. We call these shapes DNA nanostructures (from Ned Seeman and William Shih), or DNA

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