Q: What is biological teleportation?
A: One day, we will be able to send digital information and then recreate biology at the other end. This could mean downloading medicine such as insulin from the Internet directly into a 3D printer in your home. When the H1N1 flu pandemic struck, it took about nine months to get vaccines to some places. With life at the speed of light, we could send the digital information for the new vaccine around the world in less than a second. Then every place with a digital decoder could download the vaccine. And with the first synthetic cell, we can actually send living bacterial instructions and recapitulate that at the other end. But that’s just now. It’s going to advance very rapidly.
Q: Is anything like this happening now?
A: We’re currently setting up the first digital biological converter at Novartis’s vaccine-manufacturing plant in North Carolina. As soon as any new strain of flu virus appears, we can send it immediately to them in a digital form. Then, in less than 24 hours, the robotic device we have there will synthetically make the new vaccine which can be scaled up and taken into production right there.
Q: How will synthetic biology affect evolution?
A: With synthetic biology and synthetic genomics, humans are in charge of evolution. We can make biological evolution happen thousands to millions of times faster than it did before. Biological evolution will be able to catch up with social evolution. And that’s exciting, because humanity needs a lot of changes if we’re going to survive. Biology will be one of the key contributing approaches to that survival.
– As told to Alyson Sheppard
In October, J Craig Venter, who was one of the first geneticists to map the human genome, published his latest book, Life at the Speed of Light, in which he focuses on the science of synthetic life and biological engineering.