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SCIENCE IN THE NEWS DAILY

Craig Venter's Bugs Might Save the World

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

In the menagerie of Craig Venter's imagination, tiny bugs will save the world. They will be custom bugs, designer bugs -- bugs that only Venter can create. He will mix them up in his private laboratory from bits and pieces of DNA, and then he will release them into the air and the water, into smokestacks and oil spills, hospitals and factories and your house.

Each of the bugs will have a mission. Some will be designed to devour things, like pollution. Others will generate food and fuel. There will be bugs to fight global warming, bugs to clean up toxic waste, bugs to manufacture medicine and diagnose disease, and they will all be driven to complete these tasks by the very fibers of their synthetic DNA.

Right now, Venter is thinking of a bug. He is thinking of a bug that could swim in a pond and soak up sunlight and urinate automotive fuel. He is thinking of a bug that could live in a factory and gobble exhaust and fart fresh air. He may not appear to be thinking about these things. He may not appear to be thinking at all. He may appear to be riding his German motorcycle through the California mountains, cutting the inside corners so close that his kneepads skim the pavement. This is how Venter thinks. He also enjoys thinking on the deck of his 95-foot sailboat, halfway across the Pacific Ocean in a gale, and while snorkeling naked in the Sargasso Sea surrounded by Portuguese men-of-war. When Venter was growing up in San Francisco, he would ride his bicycle to the airport and race passenger jets down the runway. As a Navy corpsman in Vietnam, he spent leisurely afternoons tootling up the coast in a dinghy, under a hail of enemy fire.

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