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Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life

87 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0670025404
ISBN-10: 0670025402
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Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life + A Life Decoded: My Genome: My Life
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Venter (A Life Decoded), a field giant of genetics, makes a persuasive case that synthetic biology will help us understand, appreciate, and improve our own biology. The impatient genius who arrogantly raced the U.S. government to sequence the human genome, Venter scores many firsts in this emerging field, including the creation—nearly from scratch—of the first synthetic bacterium. It was not a pure first, as he used cytoplasm from an existing cell to boot up his synthetic genome—which only deviated slightly from the genome of an existing bacterium. But it&'s a major coup; Venter&'s synthetic genome successfully instructed the cell to create living proteins. We can now change the software of life, which then changes its own hardware, as it were. Venter shares spellbinding stories from the frontiers of genomics—researchers creating living toolboxes out of mechanisms co-opted from varied life forms. For the wary, he notes nature itself mixes and matches species-specific mechanisms: our own mitochondria were once bacteria engulfed by, and incorporated into, our cells. Gene engineering opens new portals of life-designing potential, he argues, and he champions ethics reviews of such work. Venter instills awe for biology as it is, and as it might become in our hands. Agent: John Brockman, Brockman Inc. (Nov.)

From Booklist

When scientists finally succeed in transmitting to another galaxy the digital instructions for building a living organism, they will rely on science that Venter has pioneered. To understand the groundbreaking work Venter has done, however, readers must revisit Hooke’s seventeenth-century discovery of the cell as the primary structure of life and must peer into an anticipated future of teleportation via quantum entanglement. But the narrative largely focuses on the twentieth-century research fulfilling physicist Schrödinger’s hopes of finding the key of life in a biochemical aperiodic crystal. In particular, readers see how the double helix that Watson and Crick first recognized in DNA 60 years ago has become an adaptable scaffold for genetic engineers wielding potent pools for creating new life-forms. Readers will marvel at the potential that genetic engineering holds for making food, purifying water, generating energy, and curing diseases. Though they may wish to consult other sources to explore the philosophical and ethical issues he raises, readers will thank Venter for an insider’s perspective on epoch-making science. --Bryce Christensen

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (October 17, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670025402
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670025404
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #144,560 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Robert Steven Thomas TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 17, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Though the author may be a controversial individual to some, he remains one of the top scientific achievers in a world of very controversial areas of new research. This book demonstrates why his knowledge and contributions to the cutting edge sciences of genetics, microbiology and computer science have made him one of the towering forces in these fields. This book's subject is certain to draw critics from all sides considering the unknown territory it may lead humanity toward. I make no personal judgments ... it is for us to each individually, then collectively decide. For those of you who have a deep curiosity of what potentially lies ahead for mankind in the near-term future through the fusion of advanced technologies, this book is an eye-opener. It is short, concise and well written, with snappy prose and not an overabundance of technical terms to bog the reader down. Oddly enough, my only small criticism of the book is the "title" - life at the speed of light ... Through remarkable new discoveries in quantum physics regarding "entangled" particles, Venter should be describing future potentials at "faster-than-the -speed-of-light" or "instantaneous." Instantaneous response and information dispersal over vast distances is no longer science fiction from a Star Trek episode, it is now established science fact. Admittedly some of this is discussed in the book and somewhat further out on the horizon of engineering capability. Get this book. When we stop learning we start dying.
Intelligent Intervention
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Josef on October 27, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The positive:
Lots of up-to-date information on our current understanding of how the code of life, DNA, shapes our destiny. Venter describes is great detail the creation of man-made life in the form of Mycoplasma, "the first living self-replicating species to have a computer as a parent". This was pure science fiction only 20 years ago.
Lots of very-readable historical background information, from Erwin Schroedinger's "What is Life" through many of the key scientific experiments that got us to where we are today.
The (slightly) negative:
Venter's ego sometimes makes him seem somewhat immodest, in my humble opinion.
My recommendation is to read this book in combination with Venter's biography, "A Life Decoded", which in my opinion gives great insight into Craig Venter's thinking. Both of these books are a pleasure to read for anyone curious about the way life works. Science at its best.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By R. Barton on October 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The fact that Dr. Venter is writing another book is cause for me to drop everything, download and read it same day. And that excitement carried all the way through. This is a profound and incredible book on life and what makes it happen. He lays everything out transparently, all his ideas and reasonings and methods. He's just really smart and hardworking and those two things are at the root of his success, and success far beyond his time is what he has already accomplished. 'Some people see chaos, others see patterns' describes Dr. Venter's own mentality. I was astounded at how comprehensively he sees life, the cell and dna synthesis.

Someone floated a rumor (a chief rival?) in the past about Dr. Venter's ego and hubris and all that. When, where? I've never seen that from him and this book is further a credit to all those he works with. When he creates something he just says 'I did this' and I think he's allowed. Dr. Venter has been, like many in his field, one of the great assets to humankind. This book was conversational, like a fireside chat and I consumed it in a day. I couldn't get too much of his brilliance.

One thing I will note about this book, it closes the door on religion, vitalism and mysticism.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Andrew on November 6, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Biology has gone digital. DNA can be read by robots, metabolism can be simulated in software, and now, with genome-scale DNA printing becoming technically and economically feasible, life can now be programmed. This ability to translate between the chemical information bits of DNA to the electronic bits of digital computers and back again creates incredible possibilities - including teleporting life from one location (or world) to another as email attachments. Dr. Venter shares the story of the fundamental work in digital biology that he and his team has done that is easy to read and thoroughly referenced. He describes how this work has already changed the way vaccines are made and how Mars and other planets will be explored. Few books offer such an intimate account of modern genetic science or profound preview into our biological future. Reading this book, it is clear that digital biology can, is, and will continue to change our world as significantly as the digital computer. This is big stuff - unfolding in real time - and likely to earn Venter a Nobel Prize in the near future. Even if DNA isn't your thing, perhaps consider getting a copy for that tech-savvy young man or woman you know that is mulling over what to do with their life.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Renato Baserga on December 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
well narrated by the expert in the field. It is a fascinating story, and actually Venter underplays it as he does not delve into the multiple applications that can be derived from "new" cells. I am sure he is aware of what can be done with new cells, but somehow he does not spell it out, leaving it mostly to the reader's imagination. But Venter has been the first in other things, and it does not surprise me that he wanted to the first in replacing a "useless" nucleus with one made to order. Good luck to him; he deserves it.
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