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One of those memorable events that people in years to come will see as a crucial moment in history. After all, it's where the dawning of the age of biology was officially announced."— Süddeutsche Zeitung

In the summer of 2009, in a talk at the Bristol (UK) Festival of Ideas, physicist Freeman Dyson articulated a vision for the future. He referenced The Age Of Wonder, by Richard Holmes, in which the first Romantic Age described by Holmes was centered on chemistry and poetry, while Dyson pointed out that this new age is dominated by computational biology. Its leaders, he noted, include "biology wizards" Kary Mullis, Craig Venter, medical engineer Dean Kamen; and "computer wizards" Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Charles Simonyi. He pointed out that the nexus for this intellectual activity — the Lunar Society for the 21st century — is centered around the activities of Edge.

Dyson continued to articulate his vision for a new age of biology in a related review in New York Review of Books in which he wrote:

"...a new generation of artists, writing genomes as fluently as Blake and Byron wrote verses, might create an abundance of new flowers and fruit and trees and birds to enrich the ecology of our planet. Most of these artists would be amateurs, but they would be in close touch with science, like the poets of the earlier Age of Wonder. The new Age of Wonder might bring together wealthy entrepreneurs like Venter and Kamen ... and a worldwide community of gardeners and farmers and breeders, working together to make the planet beautiful as well as fertile, hospitable to hummingbirds as well as to humans."

Indeed, Dyson was was front and center in August 2007, at "Life: What a Concept", an Edge Special Event where he joined scientists Craig Venter, George Church, Robert Shapiro, Dimitar Sasselov, and Seth Lloyd. According to Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the event "was one of those memorable events that people in years to come will see as a crucial moment in history. After all, it's where the dawning of the age of biology was officially announced."

As a follow up to "Life: What a Concept", the Edge Master Class 2009 featured a two-day course taught by the two leading genomic researchers in the world: George Church and Craig Venter. "A Short Course in Synthetic Genomics" for a small group of scientists, entrepreneurs, cultural impresarios and journalists that included architects of the some of the leading transformative companies of our time (Microsoft, Google, Facebook, PayPal).

Among the Edge contributors are the pioneers in this "new age of wonder". We are pleaed to present some of the important conversations that have taken place in thelast five year, which includes over 15 hours of video and transcripts, plus a 43,000-word downloadable PDF book from Life: What A Concept.

— John Brockman

Kary Mullis

"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." ...


@ev — Evan Williams, Twitter

Bill Joy, Kleiner Perkins
Stewart Brand, Long Now Foundation
Sergey Brin, Google

Anne Treisman, Princeton
Daniel Kahneman, Princeton
W. Daniel Hillis, Applied Minds
Larry Page, Google
John Brockman

George Church, Harvard
Craig Venter, Synthetic Genomics
Daniel Dennett, Tufts
Nathan Myhrvold, Intellectual Ventures
Jared Cohen, Dave Morin, John Cusack, Dean Kamen, Bill Gates, Arianna Huffington, Michael Shermer
Lisa Randall, Harvard
Jaqui Safra, Investor
Jeff Bezos, Amazon
Annaka Harris, Project Reason
Xeni Jardin, BoingBoing
Nathan Wolfe, Stanford
Marissa Mayer, Google

Benoit Mandelbrot, Yale
Nancy Mullis
Kary Mullis, Altermune LLC


The Edge Master Class 2009
George Church & J. Craig Venter

[George Dyson: From the Introduction] " On July 24, 2009, a small group of scientists, entrepreneurs, cultural impresarios and journalists that included architects of the some of the leading transformative companies of our time (Microsoft, Google, Facebook, PayPal), arrived at the Andaz Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, to be offered a glimpse, guided by George Church and Craig Venter, of a future far stranger than Mr. Huxley had been able to imagine in 1948.

"In this future — whose underpinnings, as Drs. Church and Venter demonstrated, are here already — life as we know it is transformed not by the error catastrophe of radiation damage to our genetic processes, but by the far greater upheaval caused by discovering how to read genetic sequences directly into computers, where the code can be replicated exactly, manipulated freely, and translated back into living organisms by writing the other way. "We can program these cells as if they were an extension of the computer," George Church announced, and proceeded to explain just how much progress has already been made. ..."

The entire Master Class is available in high quality HD Edge Video (about 6 hours).

The Edge Master Class 2009 advanced the themes and ideas presented in the historic Edge meeting "Life: What A Concept!".

Svante Pääbo

"When I started out in '84/'85, intent on studying the genomes of ancient civilizations, I was, as is often the case in this kind of situation, driven by delusions of grandeur. I thought that I would be able to easily study the ancient genomes. I dreamt of addressing questions in Egyptology. For example, how do historico-political events that we read about impact the population? When Alexander the Great comes to Egypt, what is the influence on the population? Is it just a political change? The Arab Conquest: does that mean that a large part of the population is replaced? Or is it mainly a cultural change? There's no way we can answer this question from historical records. But my dream was to address questions like this. Then, after some initial success, I realized the real limitations on what I wanted to do. ..."


A Talk with Drew Endy

"The only thing that hasn't been engineered are the living things, ourselves. Biotechnology is 30 years old; it's a young adult. Most of the work is still to come, but how do we actually do it? Let's not talk about it, let's actually go do it, and then let's deal with the consequences ." ...


Craig Venter & Richard Dawkins: A Conversation in Munich

"To some this may be troubling, but part of the problem we face with scientific advancement, is the fear of the unknown — fear that often leads to rejection...Science is a topic which can cause people to turn off their brains". — J. Craig Venter


A DNA-DRIVEN WORLD: The 32nd Richard Dimbleby Lecture [12.6.07]
J. Craig Venter

"The future of life depends not only in our ability to understand and use DNA, but also, perhaps in creating new synthetic life forms, that is, life which is forged not by Darwinian evolution but created by human intelligence.

"To some this may be troubling, but part of the problem we face with scientific advancement, is the fear of the unknown - fear that often leads to rejection.

"Science is a topic which can cause people to turn off their brains. I contend that science has failed to excite more people for at least two reasons: it is frequently taught poorly, often as rote memorization of complex facts and data, and it is antithetical to our visceral-driven way we live and interact with our world." ...


An Edge Special Event at Eastover Farm
Freeman Dyson, J. Craig Venter, George Church, Robert Shapiro, Dimitar Sasselov, Seth Lloyd

Freeman Dyson

"The essential idea is that you separate metabolism from replication. We know modern life has both metabolism and replication, but they're carried out by separate groups of molecules. My version of the origin of life is that it started with metabolism only."

J. Craig Venter

"I have come to think of life in much more a gene-centric view than even a genome-centric view, although it kind of oscillates. And when we talk about the transplant work, genome-centric becomes more important than gene-centric. From the first third of the Sorcerer II expedition we discovered roughly 6 million new genes that has doubled the number in the public databases when we put them in a few months ago, and in 2008 we are likely to double that entire number again. We're just at the tip of the iceberg of what the divergence is on this planet. We are in a linear phase of gene discovery maybe in a linear phase of unique biological entities if you call those species, discovery, and I think eventually we can have databases that represent the gene repertoire of our planet.

"One question is, can we extrapolate back from this data set to describe the most recent common ancestor. I don't necessarily buy that there is a single ancestor. It’s counterintuitive to me. I think we may have thousands of recent common ancestors and they are not necessarily so common." ...

George Church

"Many of the people here worry about what life is, but maybe in a slightly more general way, not just ribosomes, but inorganic life. Would we know it if we saw it? It's important as we go and discover other worlds, as we start creating more complicated robots, and so forth, to know, where do we draw the line?"


George Church

"As creative as we become, and as industrious and as good as we are at designing and manufacturing living things, which we've been doing since the stone age — no matter how good we get at that, it's like calling a candle a supernova. A candle is not a super nova; it's not even in the same league. And we, as intelligent designers, are not in the same league as the "Intelligent Designer" that designed the whole shebang. We're not designing sub-atomic particles from scratch; we're not designing the Big Bang. We're really not even designing life; we're just manipulating it." ...


J. Craig Venter

At the end of June, Venter announced the results of his lab's work on genome transplantation methods that allows for the transformation of one type of bacteria into another, dictated by the transplanted chromosome. In other words, one species becomes another. In talking to Edge about the research, Venter noted the following:

"Now we know we can boot up a chromosome system. It doesn't matter if the DNA is chemically made in a cell or made in a test tube. Until this development, if you made a synthetic chromosome you had the question of what do you do with it. Replacing the chromosome with existing cells, if it works, seems the most effective to way to replace one already in an existing cell systems. We didn't know if it would work or not. Now we do. This is a major advance in the field of synthetic genomics. We now know we can create a synthetic organism. It's not a question of 'if', or 'how', but 'when', and in this regard, think weeks and months, not years." ...


A Conversation with J. Craig Venter, Ray Kurzweil, Rodney Brooks

"Trying to understand the basic components of a cell, we've tried knocking out genes, and trying to see what gene cells could live without, but we get different answers every time the experiment's done, depending on how it's done, whether it's a batch growth, or you require cloning out of the cells, different growth requirements. We decided some time ago the only way to approach this was to build an artificial chromosome and be able to do evolution in the laboratory the way it happens in the environment." ...