Coming soon: the DNA printer

Sure you sequenced the human genome, Craig Venter, but what have you done for us lately? Plenty, as it turns out. Venter (and some of his close friends) have figured out how to assemble (relatively) long sequences of wholly synthesized DNA, enough to make a complete virus, in fact. This is one step closer to the “DNA Printer” where you just specify the sequence and squirt out a chromosome. Here is the story in New Scientist. This somewhat more technical version from GNN is more revealing: Synthetic Genome Has Potential Value for Energy and Environment.

The article talks about energy because Venter’s plan is to make a kind of wacky tobacky that can spew hydrogen gas. Which is pretty nifty stuff so far as it goes, but you don’t have to be too clever to see this has other implications: “If we can get them little bugs to make hydrogen gas, I wonder what else we can make ’em do?”

Still, it’s fascinating stuff, and the ride is just starting. A living cell is already a sophisticated information processing system. Once we figure out how to communicate with it (through techniques like the ones Venter is working on), it will cough up its secrets with amazing speed.