Jack Byrne

Notes for WBB Piece:

The world of life not only consists of independent species, but every individual of most species is actually a consortium of several species.

– Ernst Mayr in foreword to “Acquiring Genomes – A Theory of the Origin of Species” by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan

I realized that the human spirit was at least as important as our physiology. We’re clearly much, much more than the  sum total of our genes, just as or society is greater than the sum total of each of us.

– J. Craig Venter in A Life Decoded – My Genome My Life

Notes for: Can we synthesize a better future?

Written for anyone who is curious about the they might have choice in the not too distant future, through personal genomic reading and writing, to live for hundreds of years. What might it be like to live in a world that has become more synthetic (as in the human ability to synthesize existing and new forms of life, or replicate pieces of life)?      Synthesize me!

Synthetic Biology

What are the basics that one needs to know about genetics, DNA, genome reading and writing technologies. What is the history? Who are the key players and companies, universities research centers. How big is this enterprise. How fast is it growing. What are their motivations? What kind of safeguards have been established? What are the ethical issues at play?

Applied Research

What are the more heavily funded genetic “breakthrough” research areas that  could be the basis for a new set of “disruptive” technologies:: personal pharmaceuticals, organ growth in vitro from DNA for implant when a new liver, eye, heart…is needed, writing/assembling custom gene sequences to create new forms of life, e.g., high lipid production algae to make biofuels. What are some of the recent “breakthroughs” in synthetic biology and what business enterprises and venture projects are already applying them? What are the enabling technologies that are being developed?

Ethical and Moral Issues

What are the risks and rewards that are of greatest concern about synthetic biology? – by scientists, by ethicists, by clergy, by practitioners and researchers, by the public. What is the Personal Genome Project learning about making a person’s entire genetic sequence, and their identity, publicly available?

Person Genomic Information for Medical Use

What can a personal genome reading tell you about yourself, your family, and your future health? What can it not tell you? How accurate are these readings? Why would you do it? Why might you not want to do it? How is this being used to help keep people healthy

Synthetic Biology and Evolution

How does synthetic biology change our views about evolution and natural selection? Who foresaw something like this when the Darwinian theory of evolution via natural selection was being debated – was Lamarck’s theory of “inheritance of acquired characteristics” a concept that has new relevance if we are to become god-like in our abilities to synthesize bits of life?

What does this new science of the 21st century have to offer us in terms of creating a more sustainable future? How should we engage with it so that it can play a positive role in that regard?

Does synthesizing life make sense for a sustainable future? By default, or by intention, we’ve brought it upon our selves to be god’s surrogates on this planet. How can we use these particular powers so that they are a net benefit to humans and other life?

How do we use our growing power to rewrite genomes and their life expressions in timeframes of months rather than of millenia? Can we embody the wisdom of our human history and that of the other species we’ve grown up with well enough to be confident about our actions resulting in the best possible set of consequences?


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