Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves

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Overview


Imagine a future in which human beings have become immune to all viruses, in which bacteria can custom-produce everyday items, like a drinking cup, or generate enough electricity to end oil dependency. Building a house would entail no more work than planting a seed in the ground. These scenarios may seem far-fetched, but pioneering geneticist George Church and science writer Ed Regis show that synthetic biology is bringing us ever closer to making such visions a reality. In Regenesis, Church and Regis explore the possibilities—and perils—of the emerging field of synthetic biology. Synthetic biology, in which living organisms are selectively altered by modifying substantial portions of their genomes, allows for the creation of entirely new species of organisms. Until now, nature has been the exclusive arbiter of life, death, and evolution; with synthetic biology, we now have the potential to write our own biological future. Indeed, as Church and Regis show, it even enables us to revisit crucial points in the evolution of life and, through synthetic biological techniques, choose different paths from those nature originally took. Such exploits will involve far more than just microbial tinkering. Full-blown genomic engineering will make possible incredible feats, from resurrecting woolly mammoths and other extinct organisms to creating mirror life forms with a molecular structure the opposite of our own. These technologies—far from the out-of-control nightmare depicted in science fiction—have the power to improve human and animal health, increase our intelligence, enhance our memory, and even extend our life span. A breathtaking look at the potential of this world-changing technology, Regenesis is nothing less than a guide to the future of life.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Exhilarating and scary facts suffuse this book about bioengineering by leading Harvard genetics professor and entrepreneur Church. The book, written with veteran science writer Regis (What Is Life?), may start slowly for general readers, with its talk on chirality (futuresque virus-resistant mirror-image cells that make new proteins). But when Church describes current work building microbes with minimal genes, the book takes off—and eventually soars. Microbes are natural factories. With genetic tweaking, they pump out drugs, biofuels, and green chemicals more efficiently than bricks-and-mortar factories. Church’s award-winning firm LS9 makes fuel by inserting genes from four other organisms into E. coli (“the world’s fastest machines”) that double every 20 minutes. Other researchers have rapidly “evolved” microbes that make electricity—while cleaning waste. Geneticists can boost drug production a billion-fold, and more than 2,000 genes can predict illness. Genetically tweaked “bugs”” can be more dangerous than bombs. And since technology bans don’t work, regulation is key, But “redesigning nature” should not frighten us: it is “an inherent part of life,” Church argues in this stimulating book. Illus. Agent: John Brockman, Brockman Inc. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

Science News
“Reading the first book penned by Church, a Harvard biologist and polymath, is like falling down a rabbit hole straight into his fermenting brain. Church’s wide-ranging career includes developing novel methods for reading the genetic instruction manual, or genome, of creatures from bacteria to humans. Now he focuses on synthesizing those instructions from scratch.... [A] dizzying survey of how scientists have unearthed the secrets of living organisms and are now using that information to revamp life itself.”

Robert T. Gonzalez, io9
“[A] phenomenal read.”

Wall Street Journal
“A definitive account of the advances and business ventures that define this new science [of synthetic biology]…. When history is written centuries from now, it is more likely that writing DNA will be the most enduring innovation [of our age].”

New Scientist
“Bold and provocative… Church and Regis offer a behind-the-scenes look at synthetic biology, a rapidly emerging field that is reprogramming the genetic code to create organisms and functions not found in nature. Regenesis tells of recent advances that may soon yield endless supplies of renewable energy, increased longevity and the return of long-extinct species.”

Nature
“The life sciences emerge as the new high-tech in this paean to synthetic biology…. Each step in the genome’s evolution serves as a springboard for expositions of how synthetic biology will revolutionize renewable energy, multivirus resistance, and more.”

Mike Loukides, O’Reilly Radar
“If there’s one book that can turn this movement into a full-blown revolution, this is it.”

Derek Jacoby, O’Reilly Radar
“George Church and Ed Regis pull off an exciting and speculative romp through the field of synthetic biology and where it could take us in the not too distant future…. Regenesis provides an accessible and engaging introduction to the revolutionary potentials of synthetic biology and should be of interest to both experts and a general science audience.”

The Scientist
“[A]n important and surprisingly accessible book, magisterially structured to intertwine the accelerated history of synthetic biology with its precedents in humanity’s earlier technological revolutions and in the epochal evolution of life itself. The book packs in a superb short course on life’s molecular workings, enabling the reader to grasp how we can actually contemplate resurrecting mammoths and Neanderthals, brewing biofuel from seawater and sunlight, engineering total immunity to viral infection, storing data in DNA, and more.”

Nathan Myhrvold, Founder and CEO, Intellectual Ventures
“A delightfully opinionated, visionary and controversial romp through synthetic biology, which is one of the most important technologies of our time."

Eric Topol, Professor of Genomics, The Scripps Research Institute, and author of The Creative Destruction of Medicine
“Literally reinventing nature could provide solutions to intractable problems with the energy supply, global warming, and human health. In Regenesis, George Church, a pioneer and pre-eminent force in promoting our ability to read DNA sequence, now guides us to the future: writing DNA sequence. Teaming up with Ed Regis, Church provides a mind-bending, tour de force account of how this seventh industrial revolution will take hold, and how ultimately the survival of our planet and the human species may rely upon rewriting the code of life. An enthralling journey into the future—with truly profound implications—that should not be missed.”

Stewart Brand, author of Whole Earth Discipline
“Here you will find the bleeding, screaming, thrilling edges of what is becoming possible with genomic engineering, handsomely framed in the fine-grained fundamentals of molecular biology. It is a combination primer and forecast of what is coming in this ‘century of biology’ from the perspective of a leading pioneer in the science.”

Kirkus Reviews
“[An] authoritative, sometimes awe-inspiring book…. A valuable glimpse of science at the edge.”

Publishers Weekly
“Exhilarating and scary facts suffuse this book about bioengineering by leading Harvard genetics professor and entrepreneur Church…. [W]hen Church describes current work building microbes with minimal genes, the book takes off – and eventually soars…. [A] stimulating book.”

Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Better Angels of Our Nature
“A thoughtful introduction to one of the great frontiers of science, one with the promise of literally saving the world. George Church is one of the most brilliant scientists in the world, and in collaboration with Ed Regis he has written a book that is engaging, readable, and thoroughly fascinating.”

J. Craig Venter, Chairman and President, J. Craig Venter Institute
“Church and Regis in Regenesis have written a wonderful synopsis of the emerging field of synthetic biology and the implications from renewable plastics to ‘raising the dead.’ This is a must-read for anyone interested in the future.”

Misha Angrist, Assistant Professor, Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, and author of Here is a Human Being
Regenesis is the most compelling bit of prophecy since the Old Testament first came out in hardback.”

From the Publisher
Science News
“Reading the first book penned by Church, a Harvard biologist and polymath, is like falling down a rabbit hole straight into his fermenting brain. Church’s wide-ranging career includes developing novel methods for reading the genetic instruction manual, or genome, of creatures from bacteria to humans. Now he focuses on synthesizing those instructions from scratch.... [A] dizzying survey of how scientists have unearthed the secrets of living organisms and are now using that information to revamp life itself.”

Robert T. Gonzalez, io9
“[A] phenomenal read.”

Wall Street Journal
“A definitive account of the advances and business ventures that define this new science [of synthetic biology]…. When history is written centuries from now, it is more likely that writing DNA will be the most enduring innovation [of our age].”

New Scientist
“Bold and provocative… Church and Regis offer a behind-the-scenes look at synthetic biology, a rapidly emerging field that is reprogramming the genetic code to create organisms and functions not found in nature. Regenesis tells of recent advances that may soon yield endless supplies of renewable energy, increased longevity and the return of long-extinct species.”

Nature
“The life sciences emerge as the new high-tech in this paean to synthetic biology…. Each step in the genome’s evolution serves as a springboard for expositions of how synthetic biology will revolutionize renewable energy, multivirus resistance, and more.”

Mike Loukides, O’Reilly Radar
“If there’s one book that can turn this movement into a full-blown revolution, this is it.”

Derek Jacoby, O’Reilly Radar
“George Church and Ed Regis pull off an exciting and speculative romp through the field of synthetic biology and where it could take us in the not too distant future…. Regenesis provides an accessible and engaging introduction to the revolutionary potentials of synthetic biology and should be of interest to both experts and a general science audience.”

The Scientist
“[A]n important and surprisingly accessible book, magisterially structured to intertwine the accelerated history of synthetic biology with its precedents in humanity’s earlier technological revolutions and in the epochal evolution of life itself. The book packs in a superb short course on life’s molecular workings, enabling the reader to grasp how we can actually contemplate resurrecting mammoths and Neanderthals, brewing biofuel from seawater and sunlight, engineering total immunity to viral infection, storing data in DNA, and more.”

Nathan Myhrvold, Founder and CEO, Intellectual Ventures
“A delightfully opinionated, visionary and controversial romp through synthetic biology, which is one of the most important technologies of our time."

Eric Topol, Professor of Genomics, The Scripps Research Institute, and author of The Creative Destruction of Medicine
“Literally reinventing nature could provide solutions to intractable problems with the energy supply, global warming, and human health. In Regenesis, George Church, a pioneer and pre-eminent force in promoting our ability to read DNA sequence, now guides us to the future: writing DNA sequence. Teaming up with Ed Regis, Church provides a mind-bending, tour de force account of how this seventh industrial revolution will take hold, and how ultimately the survival of our planet and the human species may rely upon rewriting the code of life. An enthralling journey into the future—with truly profound implications—that should not be missed.”

Stewart Brand, author of Whole Earth Discipline
“Here you will find the bleeding, screaming, thrilling edges of what is becoming possible with genomic engineering, handsomely framed in the fine-grained fundamentals of molecular biology. It is a combination primer and forecast of what is coming in this ‘century of biology’ from the perspective of a leading pioneer in the science.”

Kirkus Reviews
“[An] authoritative, sometimes awe-inspiring book…. A valuable glimpse of science at the edge.”

Publishers Weekly
“Exhilarating and scary facts suffuse this book about bioengineering by leading Harvard genetics professor and entrepreneur Church…. [W]hen Church describes current work building microbes with minimal genes, the book takes off – and eventually soars…. [A] stimulating book.”

Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Better Angels of Our Nature
“A thoughtful introduction to one of the great frontiers of science, one with the promise of literally saving the world. George Church is one of the most brilliant scientists in the world, and in collaboration with Ed Regis he has written a book that is engaging, readable, and thoroughly fascinating.”

J. Craig Venter, Chairman and President, J. Craig Venter Institute
“Church and Regis in Regenesis have written a wonderful synopsis of the emerging field of synthetic biology and the implications from renewable plastics to ‘raising the dead.’ This is a must-read for anyone interested in the future.”

Misha Angrist, Assistant Professor, Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, and author of Here is a Human Being
Regenesis is the most compelling bit of prophecy since the Old Testament first came out in hardback.”

Kirkus Reviews
A heady overview of the emerging discipline of synthetic biology and the wonders it can produce, from new drugs and vaccines to biofuels and resurrected wooly mammoths. In this authoritative, sometimes awe-inspiring book, geneticist Church (Genetics/Harvard Medical School) and veteran science writer Regis (What Is Life?: Investigating the Nature of Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology, 2008, etc.) team up to explore how scientists are now altering the nature of living organisms by modifying their genomes, or genetic makeup. Organisms whose genes have been selectively altered can be made to do things they wouldn't do in their original state. Already, this has resulted in making plastic out of corn and carpet fibers from naturally occurring sugars. But carried out on a larger scale, such altering of genetic programming can be made to produce "practically any imaginable artifact." Genomic technologies can improve human and animal health, extend our life span, increase our intelligence, enhance our memory and allow us to raise the dead. Recounting the evolution of life forms from the Hadean geologic era (3.8 billion years ago) through the present, the authors describe the raw material with which geneticists are working to create new organisms. While sometimes technical, their descriptions of the science are sufficiently lucid for general readers. In the future, they write, we will have novel methods of treating and preventing diseases. We will also be able to bring back extinct species and their habitats to increase genetic diversity and may even explore cloning as a possible route to immortality. Much of the book might be dismissed as science fiction were it not for the fact that Church helped develop direct genomic sequencing and heads the Personal Genome Project, which is sequencing the genomes of many volunteers. With biotech hobbyists now at work in garages, the authors urge the establishment of safety measures to keep people safe and engineered organisms under control. A valuable glimpse of science at the edge.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465021758
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 10/2/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 284
  • Sales rank: 613,564
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

George Church is Professor of Genetics at the Harvard Medical School and member of the Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering. He is the director of the Lipper Center for Computational Genetics, the Harvard DOE Genomes-to-Life Center, the NIH Center for Excellence in Genomic Science, and PersonalGenomes.org. Church was the driving force behind the Polonator G.007, a low-cost automated genomic sequencing machine. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Ed Regis is author of seven science books, most recently What Is Life?: Investigating the Nature of Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology. He lives in Sabillasville, Maryland.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: From Bioplastics to H. Sapiens 2.0 1

Chapter 1 -3,800 Myr, Late Hadean: At the Inorganic/Organic Interface 15

Chapter 2 -3,500 Myr, Archean: Reading the Most Ancient Texts and the Future of Living Software 37

Chapter 3 -500 Myr, Cambrian: The Mirror World and the Explosion of Diversity. How Fast can Evolution Go and How Diverse Can It Be? 55

Chapter 4 -360 Myr, Carboniferous: "The Best Substitute for Petroleum is Petroleum" 91

Chapter 5 -60 Myr, Paleocene: Emergence of Mammalian Immune System. Solving the Health Care Crisis Through Genome Engineering 109

Chapter 6 -30,000 yr, Pleistocene Park: Engineering Extinct Genomes 133

Chapter 7 -10,000 yr, Neolithic: Industrial Revolutions. The Agricultural Revolution and Synthetic Genomics. The BioFab Manifesto 151

Chapter 8 -100 yr, Anthropocene: The Third Industrial Revolution. iGEM 179

Chapter 9 -1 yr, Holocene: From Personal Genomes to Immortal Human Components 203

Epigenetic Epilogue: +1 yr, The End of the Beginning, Transhumanism, and the Panspermia Era: Societal Risks and Countermeasures 225

Acknowledgments 255

Selected References 259

Illustration Sources 267

Notes: On Encoding This Book into DNA 269

Index 273

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 1, 2012

    A Brief Summary and Review

    *A full executive summary of this book is available at newbooksinbrief dot com. DNA was only discovered about a century ago, and it’s structure remained a mystery until about half a century ago, but since this time our knowledge and understanding of DNA has grown immensely (indeed exponentially). What’s more, this understanding has evolved to include not just an understanding of how DNA works, but also how it can be manipulated to help advance our ends. The most glaring example here is the phenomenon of genetically modified food. Though not without controversy initially (and some fringe opposition that lives on to this day), it is fair to say that genetically modified food was one of the major scientific advances of the 20th century. Over and above this, our understanding of DNA appeared to reach its most impressive manifestation with the successful sequencing of the human genome in the year 2000. For the genetics professor and pioneering genetic engineer George Church, however, genetically modified food and the Human Genome Project are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential of genomics. Indeed, since the year 2005, the exponential growth rate in our ability to read and write DNA has increased from 1.5-fold per year (a rate that matches Moore’s law), to the incredible rate of 10-fold per year (p. 243). This explosion in scientific and technological progress has resulted in dramatic advancements in the areas of biochemicals, biomaterials, biofuels and biomedicine. What’s more, advancements in these technologies are but in their incipient stage, and the future of genomics promises to dwarf these initial achievements. In their new book Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves George Church and science writer Ed Regis take us through the developments that have occurred recently in the area of genomics, and also where these developments are likely to take us in the future. Church's book both is both invigorating and inspiring. However, it should be noted that the book is fairly technical throughout, and will only be easily-digested by a reader who already has a fairly deep understanding of the field. Having said that, an educated general reader equipped with a good amount of patience will have no trouble following the argument, and should learn a great deal in the process. A full executive summary of the book is available at newbooksinbrief dot com; a podcast discussion of the book will be available soon.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2012

    OMG this is so freaky!

    It sounds like the evil scientists in the Maximum Ride series! Which is freaky, because they made the kids have wings and one of them blind! And the kept them in dog crates!!! FREAKY!!!!!!!!!!

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    Posted December 25, 2012

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