J. CRAIG VENTER: THE BIOLOGICAL-DIGITAL CONVERTER, OR, BIOLOGY AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT @ THE EDGE DINNER IN TURIN
"We can now send biology at the speed of light, and this is one of the implications of our work, which we recorded two years ago making the first synthetic life form. We completely synthesized the genetic code of a cell starting with a digital code in the computer—it's the ultimate interface between computers and biology. The digital code and the genetic code have a lot in common; something Schrodinger pointed out in 1943, saying it could be something as simple as the Morse code."
"This is a hormone that has fascinated me. It's a small molecule that seems to be doing remarkable things. The variation we see in this hormone comes from a number of different sources. One of those sources is genes; many different genes can influence how much testosterone each of us produces, and I just wanted to share with you my fascination with this hormone, because it's helping us take the science of sex differences one step further, to try to understand not whether there are sex differences, but what are the roots of those sex differences? Where are they springing from? And along the way we’re also hoping that this is going to teach us something about those neuro-developmental conditions like autism, like delayed language development, which seem to disproportionately affect boys more than girls, and potentially help us understand the causes of those conditions."
"I'm thinking a lot about species concepts as applied to humans, about the "Out of Africa" model, and also looking back into Africa itself. I think the idea that modern humans originated in Africa is still a sound concept. Behaviorally and physically, we began our story there, but I've come around to thinking that it wasn't a simple origin. Twenty years ago, I would have argued that our species evolved in one place, maybe in East Africa or South Africa. There was a period of time in just one place where a small population of humans became modern, physically and behaviourally. Isolated and perhaps stressed by climate change, this drove a rapid and punctuational origin for our species. Now I don’t think it was that simple, either within or outside of Africa. "
"Why has cooperation, not competition, always been the key to the evolution of complexity?"
"So who is the greatest biologist of all time? Good question. For most people it's got to be Darwin. I mean, Darwin is top dog, numero uno. He told us about evolution, he convinced us that evolution happened, and he gave us an explanation for it. I mean, there just wouldn't seem to be any competition. Okay, fine, well you might then say: Mendel. Mendel discovers transmission genetics, and that was pretty good. And I suppose then you have to go pretty far down the list to come to people like Watson and Crick, who just discovered the structure of DNA, which is just a bit of structural biology, really, a bit of biochemistry."
"Now we are starting to work with organisms that are more likely to appear in a hospital, like staph and influenza, and we have our sights on Clostridia difficile, Pneumococcus aeruginosa, Acetinobacter baumanii and an alarming number of other bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. We are also working on influenza, which has a convenient little feature called M2e."
"The parasite my lab is beginning to focus on is one in the world of mammals, where parasites are changing mammalian behavior. It's got to do with this parasite, this protozoan called Toxoplasma. If you're ever pregnant, if you're ever around anyone who's pregnant, you know you immediately get skittish about cat feces, cat bedding, cat everything, because it could carry Toxo. And you do not want to get Toxoplasma into a fetal nervous system. It's a disaster."
Parallels between Economics and Evolution, or What Happens When Ideas Have Sex
"...I want to engage you in a discussion of the deep history of beauty. By deep I mean as seen from an evolutionary perspective. I am an "evolutionary psychologist". I believe that to understand and fully appreciate human mental traits, we need to know why they are there — which is to say what biological function they are serving. Evolutionary psychology has been making pretty good progress. But, as we say, "there are still some elephants in the living room" — big issues that no one wants to talk about. And human beings worship of the beautiful remains one of the biggest."