Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Book: Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves

George Church is a great mind and scientist. I had the chance to listen to his talk in Museum of Science last year. So, when I saw the book by him, I didn't even hesitate one second. I knew it would be a great read. After reading it, I can say I was absolutely right. Whether you like biology or not, whether you know some biology or not, you should read the book. It is not only a book about synthetic biology and the future of it, it is also about humanity, the fate of humans and our society.

"Imagine a future in which human beings have become immune to all viruses, in which bacteria can custom-produce everyday items, like a drinking cup, or generate enough electricity to end oil dependency. Building a house would entail no more work than planting a seed in the ground. These scenarios may seem far-fetched, but pioneering geneticist George Church and science writer Ed Regis show that synthetic biology is bringing us ever closer to making such visions a reality. In Regenesis, Church and 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. Until now, nature has been the exclusive arbiter of life, death, and evolution; with synthetic biology, we now have the potential to write our own biological future. Indeed, as Church and Regis show, it even enables us to revisit crucial points in the evolution of life and, through synthetic biological techniques, choose different paths from those nature originally took. Such exploits will involve far more than just microbial tinkering. Full-blown genomic engineering will make possible incredible feats, from resurrecting woolly mammoths and other extinct organisms to creating mirror life forms with a molecular structure the opposite of our own. 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."

The above paragraph is straight from the Amazon webpage for the book. I had to quote it because I can't write anything better than that. It's an easy to read book so I am pretty sure anyone who has 3-4 hours on a weekend will easily finish reading it. You will not only learn how synthetic biology can change our future but also how important it has become in our lives without even realizing it. Moreover, if you want to be an entrepreneur in biotech there are tens of examples of them; how they were founded, how and why they succeeded (or didn't), the challenges and even future directions.

Before you look up for the definition of synthetic biology, let's see how George Church describes it:

"the science of selectively altering the genes of organisms to make them do things that they wouldn;t do in their original, natural, untouched state."

As usual, I have quotes :

"Creating a mirror world might give us a fresh lease on life, one free of disease and unwanted agricultural pest species."

"...species that are lowest in diversity are most vulnerable to extinction."

"Give me a selection, and I will change the world."

"Multicellularity tends to come with a hard consequence-you give up your immortality."

"...just as individuals respond differently to drugs and to pathogens, they also respond differently to information."

"What should we do? Doing nothing, or doing what is traditional or natural, is not even close to a recipe for survival. If we choose tomorrow to behave in a way that our primitive ancestors did, nearly all of our 7 billion humans will die."

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