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Human Genome Decoder and Artificial Life Creator, J. Craig Venter to Speak at "The Atlantic Meets the Pacific"

LA JOLLA, Calif., Sept. 5, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- "There are two groups of people," J. Craig Venter told Der Spiegel in 2010. "People either want to know...or they prefer to live like an ostrich with their head in the sand, not knowing anything."

By any definition, Venter is a person who wants to know. He wanted to understand the human genome. But the Human Genome Project was working too slowly for his taste. So he created a company, Celera Genomics, that leapfrogged the government-backed effort and achieved full mapping of human DNA three years before it was projected to be completed.

Even so, once the DNA was decoded, knowledge did not necessarily translate directly into power. "Everybody thought that if you knew your genome, you would know when you would die and what you would die from. That is nonsense," Venter continued in the Spiegel interview. "We couldn't even be certain from my genome what my eye color was. Isn't that sad? Everyone was looking for miracle 'yes/no' answers in the genome. 'Yes, you'll have cancer.' Or 'No, you won't have cancer. But that's just not the way it is."

Venter will speak in San Diego in October, 2012 at "The Atlantic Meets the Pacific" a forum for exploring human intelligence, imagination, inventions and innovations shaping the future.

Never satisfied with the pace of ongoing scientific investigation, and loath to confine his pursuits to just one field of study, Venter next hatched a plan to explore the oceans in search of genetic diversity in marine microbes. Through the Global Ocean Sampling Expedition, Venter circumnavigated the globe in the mid-2000s.

At the Atlantic Meets Pacific conference, taking place October 7-9, 2012, in San Diego, Venter will speak about his unorthodox approach to science and the results of his wide-ranging experiments. The aim of the Atlantic Meets the Pacific event, presented by The Atlantic and the University of California San Diego, is to engage a national constituency of CEOs, philanthropists, civic officials, and media leaders in conversation about some of the most exciting developments shaping America and the world, linking the strengths of the traditional achievements of the Atlantic Coast with the promising ideas and opportunities emerging from the Pacific Coast.

Most recently, Venter has turned his sights on a perennial favorite subject for dystopian sci-fi authors: Creating artificial life forms. When asked by Der Spiegel whether creating his latest achievement—the first self-replicating cell—was "playing God," Venter answered with directness for which he is famous in scientific circles, and shared his breathtaking vision of a future in which bacteria become microscopic factories to meet humanity's exponentially growing needs.

"I can read your genome, you know? Nobody's been able to do that in history before. But that is not about God-like powers, it's about scientific power," Venter said. "The real problem is that the understanding of science in our society is so shallow. In the future, if we want to have enough water, enough food and enough energy without totally destroying our planet, then we will have to be dependent on good science. Not only gasoline. Plastic, asphalt, heating oil: Everything that we make from oil will at some point be made by bacteria or other cells. Whether that is in five, 10 or 20 years is unclear. Why don't we have fuel now other than alcohol from microbes? It's because nothing evolved that can produce great amounts of biofuel out of CO2. That's why we have to make it."

"The Atlantic Meets the Pacific" event will feature three days of thought provoking conversations addressing new frontiers in science, medicine, art, technology and energy. Other speakers include V.S. Ramachandran, an eye doctor-turned-brain scientist who unlocked the secrets of "phantom limb syndrome"; Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of "The Happiness Project"; and Jane McGonigal, PhD, world-renowned designer of alternative reality games.

To register for The Atlantic Meets the Pacific, please visit the registration site ( General admission, which includes access to all main-stage programming, a choice of lab tours, and a welcome dinner and subsequent meals, is $795.00.

Venter, an alumnus of UC San Diego, has a sense of humor that is rarely shared among mainstream scientists. Der Spiegel asked how the synthetic cell he created is doing. "It's sitting in a freezer, doing extremely well," he answered. "We'll keep it for the historians. It is the first genome in the world to include an e-mail address. So far, 50 scientists have cracked the code and answered us."


SOURCE The Atlantic Meets the Pacific
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