Any day now Craig Venter – geneticist, yachtsman and Vietnam veteran – will announce that he has achieved one of the greatest feats in science: the creation of artificial life. He talks to Ed Pilkington.
From The Guardian:
For a room in which one of the most astonishing experiments in modern science is being conducted, the laboratory in the J Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, is understated. It is divided into wooden workstations reminiscent of a school science lab. There are stacks of glass test tubes and pipettes, and one wall is lined with air-controlled boxes containing Petri dishes. Petri dishes! The mere sight of them sparks memories of interminable, soporific biology lessons.
But there is nothing soporific about what is going on inside these Petri dishes. If all goes according to plan – and the full expectation is that it will – their surface will bloom imminently with an array of small white spots that will herald a giant leap in scientific and human potential. Each spot will contain up to 10m bacterial cells, and in each cell there will be a chromosome that has been painstakingly stitched together by humans from lab-made chemicals.
In short, those schoolboy Petri dishes will contain the first artificial life form ever created.
Casting a paternal eye over the proceedings, like an expectant father pacing the delivery room, is the imposing figure of Craig Venter – the scientist variously described as a rebel, maverick, outsider, and the Bono of genetics.