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Life at the Speed of Light

From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life

By J. Craig Venter
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Life at the Speed of Light by J. Craig Venter

Life at the Speed of Light (2013) chronicles the pioneering work of the author and his team in creating the world’s first synthetic life form. You’ll experience the thrill of discovery as you follow the team’s groundbreaking work in synthesizing the world’s first genome and exploring the teleportation of living organisms.

Key idea 1 of 11

Modern biology is based on a new understanding of what life is and what makes it “run.”

The study of biology asks one profound, powerful question: “What is life?”

In fact, it was exactly this profound question that led physicist Erwin Schrödinger to hold a series of groundbreaking lectures that provoked not just the gathered scientific minds but also a veritable revolution in science as well.

How did he achieve this? Schrödinger in essence presented a new way of interpreting biological life. (Schrödinger, a Nobel laureate, is also notable for his pioneering work in quantum physics.)

In 1944, Schrödinger published What is Life?, a book based on his lectures. In it, he examines what exactly makes humans “tick” – and essentially set the stage for modern genetics research.

Schrödinger was one of the first thinkers to suggest that everything that happens in a cell can be explained solely through physical and chemical processes.

Importantly, Schrödinger’s ideas inspired scientists James Watson and Francis Crick in their own work, which led to the discovery of what we now know as the genetic code for human life.

In 1953, Watson and Crick took a closer look at DNA and discovered its now well-known double-helix form. They also identified DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) as the crucial carrier of the code that determines an organism's genetic information.

These men also discovered how DNA reproduces and passes its information from generation to generation, work that earned them a Nobel Prize in 1962. Before their efforts, it was commonly believed that proteins – and not DNA – were the carriers of genetic information.

Ever since, scientists have worked to further unravel DNA’s many mysteries. And since 1970, when Crick firmly established the process by which genetic information is transmitted via DNA, scientists have worked diligently to deconstruct and comprehend the entire genetic code.

Latent in this work is the assumption that all biological life can be reduced to the cellular level – an echo of Schrödinger’s hypothesis from all those decades ago.

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