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Gene Wars: Dueling Geniuses

Craig Venter, president of the J. Craig Venter Institute

In the most recent issue of Newsweek, science writer Lily Huang offers a good overview of the “competition” between George Church and Craig Venter, two titans of cutting-edge DNA sequencing and synthetic biology. The importance, and eventual impact, of what these two are doing is hard to overstate, and my own recent visit to the Church Lab, a bustling enterprise occupying significant square footage within Harvard Medical School’s New Research Building, confirmed the faith, and financing, that the academy has staked on his work. Industry — chemical, energy, and medical — is interested, too; Church is or has been a consultant or co-founder in numerous ventures, ranging from personal genomics firm Knome to LS9, which uses synthetic biology techniques to produce “renewable petroleum” for use as transportation fuel and in commercial chemical production. The latter company recently signed a deal with Procter & Gamble, which says it intends to use LS9’s “sustainable” chemicals in its vast portfolio of consumer products.

George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School.

George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School

In both practical and pure-science terms, one of Church’s most interesting recent accomplishments was the synthesizing from scratch of an artificial ribosome, a key component of all living systems that is responsible for “constructing” proteins within a cell. While this has been hyped as a big step in the quest to create “life from scratch,” Church insists that he is less interested in that than in getting better at engineering novel biological systems that perform important and useful work.

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  1. […] the new issue of Nature, published online July 26, a team of researchers working out of George Church’s lab at Harvard Medical School describes a new cell programming method called Multiplex […]

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