Once Again, Breathe Into This Paper Bag

So the news came out yesterday that Craig Venter’s crew has now synthesized an entire microbe’s genome from scratch. This does not send a chill down my spine. Does that mean I’m missing a piece of my brain? Judge for yourself, in my new commentary for Wired. (Also, check out Rob Carlson’s typically clear-eyed assessment.)

0 thoughts on “Once Again, Breathe Into This Paper Bag

  1. I’m likely missing something in the article, but hasn’t Venters project already taught us a few new things? For instance, that E. coli could only partially assemble the Mycoplasma genome but that a yeast can go the whole distance is, to me, an interesting tidbit that bears further examination.

    And by stripping out genes and coming up with a bare-bones minimum for a living thing, at least in the future, don’t we learn something new about the minimum genomic requirements for a viable cell and, in the process, gain an understanding of what the currently functionally unassigned genes do?

    What makes this development interesting in my eyes isn’t just what’s been accomplished technically but the opportunities it opens up.

  2. I wasn’t as excited about this development as I might have been 10 years ago. Am I expecting too much from science these days? Have I just gotten used to reading about daily advancements? Or am I just impatient in waiting for cures for diseases or the solving of global problems?


  3. Excellent analysis, Carl. Just one more example of how the popular media often conflates, confuses, and basically muddies up the clear waters of science. I’m thankful for science writers like you, being on the spot with commentary that can put things in perspective, so that intelligent laypeople and scientists in other fields (redundent, I suppose) can keep up with what is really happening out there in sci-land. I know this is going to generate lots of discussion in genetics classes this semester, and as I’m lecturing on “genomics” myself in a few weeks, I think I’ll quote your commentary as an example of “good” science writing/reporting.

  4. I couldn’t agree more with your analysis and other people’s comments too.

    I loved your analogy with gene cut&paste… that’s how i started out programming too, by looking inside other people’s code and cutting and pasting my way into it…

    One day, Craig or some other human will figure out how to write a “Hello World!” genome completely of its own.

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