Craig Venter's weird world


July 2012
Craig Venter. Photo F3rn4nd0 from en:Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)
or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
Craig Venter caught the world's attention in 1998 when his company, Celera Genomics, decided to race the US government to produce the world's first 'map' of all the genes in a single human being. That race ended in 2000 with the production of two maps and the declaration of a politically expedient tie.

Since then Venter has been busy creating weird microscopic organisms whose DNA is entirely artificial. He's also been creating a great deal of concern over what his weird microbes might do to our world.

The New York Times describes Venter's imagination as a menagerie of tiny bugs to save the world. His weird bugs will devour pollution, generate food and fuel, manufacture medicines, and diagnose disease: bugs plus artificial DNA will clean us, feed us, move us, heat us and cure us. They would be, by definition, the ultimate invasive species.

Another view of such a world is one too polluted by artificial microbial controllers to regain or maintain its own health.

If this sounds like a very stressed world, that could be because Venter habitually concocts his fantasies while stressing himself: hurtling across the dessert, over the sea or through the sky. As well as his reckless hobbies, Venter is renowned for his reckless temperament, the immovable mass of his ego, and manic energy. Out of this comes an entrepreneurial approach to science promising to sell us products which will fill the world with the same qualities as their creator. This will be one weird world.

How did Venter get to where he is now? At school he was an unengaged pupil with ADHD, but the suffering he witnessed in a Vietnam field hospital focused his mind, first on biochemistry then on pharmacology. He became a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo and was involved in the National Institutes of Health, before decided that running a biotech company of his own would be more fun. And since then, it seems there has been no stopping him.

Venter's view of 'life' is that it's “just DNA ... You have to have the cell there to read it, but we're 100 percent DNA software systems”. Evolution is messy, he's “trying to clean it up” with “a rationally designed genome”.

OUR COMMENT

You might be finding it difficult to see what's 'rational' about an artificial organism. The problem Venter has missed is that rationally designed genomes don't mesh with the rest of the world: they're inherently ego-centric.

Wikipedia describes Venter as a 'biologist'. The problem is, he's not. Biologists study life, Venter has never studied life. He's studied biochemicals, and drugs. His supporters are engineers and genetic engineers, neither of which study life. If you're unclear about the difference between biology, the study of life, and all these other disciplines, check out THE MUSIC OF LIFE and DNA-INDUCED DISEASE -  June 2012.

There's an assumption behind these man-made bugs that they can't survive well in nature and will die out, or that they will be designed to self-destruct and disappear all by themselves. If you believe that, you'll believe anything.

Things might get worse. Venter hasn't yet set his army of scientists to using XNAs (see XNA - EXPANDING PROBLEMS, July 2012).

Now is the time to start shouting about the risks, because all these weird organisms are designed to alter us and our environment, and are self-perpetuating.

SOURCES:
  • John Craig Venter, Wikipedia, July 2012
  • Wil S. Hylton, Craig Venter's Bugs Might Save the World, New York Times, 30.05.12

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