After the big headlines hit last week about J. Craig Venter's work advancing synthetic life forms, science editors began to weigh in with a more careful analysis of the implications for biotechnology. From Venter's perspective, he's a genius who is spawning a whole new industry--synthetic biotechnology--which will develop new life forms that can defeat global warming and so on. His colleagues, who collectively have never been able to rival Venter's extraordinary promotional skills, have long been blistering in their scorn of the scientist, who mapped the human genome. But now there's some real respect creeping into their voices.
Cambridge University's Dr. Jim Haseloff told The Times: "The true breakthrough here is that Venter has built a DNA sequence containing 583,000 base pairs. There is a very good chance that if he can transplant it into a bacterial cell it will start working." In short, he's written the software and now he plans to boot up the computer.
It appears that as we're teetering on the brink of seeing the first synthetic microbes in action, Venter may be accused of playing God by some. But no one thinks such notoriety will diminish his appetite for the limelight--even a tiny bit.