Life: a gene-centric view

It’s hard to imagine two scientists more qualified to discuss this topic than Richard Dawkins and Craig Venter.

Richard Dawkins FRS is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. He has written extensively about evolutionary biology and is a great populariser of science. His book The Selfish Gene(1976, 1989), was described by Craig Venter as perhaps the most important scientific book of the 20th century. In 2006, he established The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS), which is now a registered charity in both the UK and USA. A website,, acts as a forum for the exchange of reason, science and critical thinking.

J. Craig Venter is the Founder, Chairman, and President of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), J. Craig Venter, PhD is regarded as one of the leading scientists of the 21st century for his contributions to genomic research. He was one of the main players in the successful sequencing of the human genome. His institute recently announced the first successful synthesis of a bacterial genome. This is the second step in a three step process of creating a synthetic organism.

These two scientists came together on stage at the Digital Life design (DLD) Conference in Munich, Germnany, last month to discuss a gene-centric view of life. Discussion also included ethical questions raised by recent advances in synthetic biology, the dangers of climate change and how synthetic biology could enable replacement of fossil fuels.

The discussion was exhilarating, although I found a difference of opinion between them on the possibility of horizontal gene transfer in mammals frustrating. This wasn’t resolved in this discussion but hopefully will be clarified in future.

The 61 minute video Life: a gene-centric view is well worth watching. There is also a shorter video (5 min) of highlights from the discussion.

See also
Venter Institute Scientists Create First Synthetic Bacterial Genome

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