“What is life?” asks Craig Venter, author of Life at the Speed of Light and one of the first to sequence the human genome and create the first cell with a synthetic genome: "Only three simple words, and yet out of them spins a universe of questions that are no less challenging. What precisely is it that separates the animate from the inanimate? What are the basic ingredients of life? Where did life first stir? How did the first organisms evolve? Is there life everywhere? To what extent is life scattered across the cosmos? If other kinds of creatures do exist on exoplanets, are they as intelligent as we are, or even more so? Today these questions about the nature and origins of life remain the biggest and most hotly debated in all of biology."
The code-script known as DNA has been sending out its signals since the dawn of all life, some four billion years ago. Half a century ago, writes Venter, "the great evolutionary geneticist Motoo Kimura estimated that the amount of genetic information has increased by one hundred million bits over the past five hundred million years. 6 The DNA code-script has come to dominate biological science, so much so that biology in the twenty-first century has become an information science. Taxonomists now use DNA bar codes to help distinguish one species from another. Others have started to use DNA in computation, or as a means to store information. I have led efforts not only to read the digital code of life but also to write it, to simulate it within a computer, and even to rewrite it to form new living cells.
"Life ultimately consists of DNA-driven biological machines. All living cells run on DNA software, which directs hundreds to thousands of protein robots. We have been digitizing life for decades, observes Venter, "since we first figured out how to read the software of life by sequencing DNA. Now we can go in the other direction by starting with computerized digital code, designing a new form of life, chemically synthesizing its DNA, and then booting it up to produce the actual organism. And because the information is now digital we can send it anywhere via biological teleporter, to re-create proteins, viruses, and living cells at a remote location at the speed of light and re-create the DNA and life at the other end, perhaps changing forever how we view life."
We are witnessing the dawn of an era of biological design, concludes Venter. Humankind is about to enter a new phase of evolution.