EXCLUSIVE Craig Venter Q&A
Today, we’re featuring Craig Venter, a world renowned
biotechnologist known for his groundbreaking contributions to genomics. He had
a pivotal role in leading the 1st draft sequence of the human genome and
assembling the pioneering team that achieved the transfection of a cell with a
The cells are very dynamic, changing 2nd to 2nd. But one
thing is fundamental to all life, and that’s the genetic code.
Later in life, He and his research team created the world’s
1st synthetic organism from scratch, demonstrating the potential of synthetic
biology to engineer life at the molecular level.
Taking those gene pathways, putting them in synthetic
organisms, we’ll Be able to create whole new chemical libraries.
Craig’s a leading figure. He’s hilarious, unfettered,
unshackled, and unafraid. You’ll hear all of that in this episode and find out
why he was among Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, not
once but twice, maybe on another planet where life already exists. So without
further ado, we welcome a lively episode of the Into the Impossible podcast, my
friend Craig Venter, live recorded at UCSD this past fall.
Welcome back to our extended session with none other than
doctor Craig Venter, whose incredible intellect and influence on so many of us.
And I wanted to solicit questions, and so I did take them on Twitter, x, and
also on Instagram, and on my YouTube channel. Doctor Brian Keating is the
handle for all those. So we’re gonna get some some wild and interesting stuff
ranging from panspermia to UAPs to Life at other planets, but we’re gonna begin
with a more, you know, close to home. Okay. So the first question. Hi, Brian.
It may be and this is from doctor Thomas Dheeraj.
It may be interesting to talk about cancer and the somatic
mutation theory. Any ideas where there has been so little to no advance in
survival for most advanced Solid tumors despite our understanding of the human
genome. Do you believe, Craig, that cancer is purely a genetic disease?
Well, it’s definitely a genetic disease, but that doesn’t
mean its ultimate cause Radiation causes cancer by mutating, the genome. Mhmm.
So it’s the radiation that causes the cancer. Same things Happened with
chemical exposure, UV light. I’ve on my, I think, 12th for 14th round of Mohs
surgery, the surgeon said, you know, have you been exposed to sunlight? And I
said, for 77 years, You know? And and, you know, I was supposed to sunlight
long before there was sunscreen, so I I have more than my share of skin cancer
from UV light Exposure. My
father-in-law had acne treated using, X rays in
the back half in the sixties. Yeah. Yeah. And X rays are
Definitely a a a carcinogen on their own. So but these things change the
genetic code. So, Human longevity, we would sequence the individual’s genome
and sequence the tumor’s genome, and you find All the genes that are mutated,
and it turns out these can be very useful and a lot of therapies Clarke being
developed on. The term we use is neoantigens because it’s a mutated protein. It
actually changes the structure of the protein, and the immune system can
And there’s been attempts to take these out and And see
which T cells recognize them Mhmm. And then make more of that peptide to give
it as a vaccine against The individual tumor. So it’s it’s a personalized
vaccine approach, and it, has seen Some success. I think Steve Rosenberg was
the 1st to do it with melanoma. It hasn’t been universal. You know, we haven’t
worked out all the rules on it yet, but, yes, cancer is a, it’s based on
changes in genetics.
Another question regarding genetics and modification comes
from user x n n four w no. I’m not gonna read Although that was my choice for
my, 2nd child’s name, x user x okay. He or she is asking, do GMOs, genetically
modified organisms affect our DNA? If so, to what extent?
Only through the plasticity of your brain be infected by
That notion that they do anything negative.
Okay. This is a a possibly contentious one. This comes from
a man whose name is an aptronym, Gene, like, your friend who came with the
algorithm that you mentioned, a suitable name for his job or her job, he or she
is asking, why weren’t you able to create life? What’s the missing spark? The
reason this is a good question is that I don’t know if he’d argue that he did
or didn’t. So did you create life? If so, what was the missing Bark or if you
did not, what what is the necessary lacunae that is missing?
So right now, all A life that we know comes from preexisting
life. And even the synthetic cell we made, we Made a totally new species that
never existed before, but we use an existing cell to transplant the genome
into, and that genome Converted that cell into totally a new species.
Mhmm. So that’s a it’s prokaryotic. It was a cell wall. You
used these existing theory. Yep.
And, micro Plasma, so there’s no cell wall. On the same day
of our announcement, I got comments from president Obama and from the pope.
President Obama announced that he was forming his new
bioethics commission, to review the ethics So Ron making synthetic life, the
pope said doctor Venter did not create life. He just Change one of life’s
motors. Mhmm. So there there are groups with the notion of trying to make it
from a cell free system. We’re trying to do that. But, in my book, I talk about
people talk about making life from scratch, and I use the analogy of people
making a cake. And when they talk about making cake from scratch, instead of
buying a cake mix, They buy a bag of flour and and they put the different
things together. It’s not like they went out and planted the seeds, Made the
flower, made every component, to it.
As Carl Sagan says, to make an apple pie, first, you must
create the universe.
Yes. Yeah. And that’s true. And so I think making it from
cell free components will happen in the next Few years. We’re hoping even even
sooner with experiment that we’re doing at the Venture Institute right now with
the synthetic almost home and trying to boot that up, but it it’s still not
doing it from scratch. Instead of an intact cell, we’re Taking the components
from a cell and trying to do it, but it would at least prove that you can form
a new cell from Scratch by having components of lipids and everything there.
There’s been groups for decades trying to Put proteins in lipid bags to see if
they could get a living cell. I’ve Told them it’s impossible.
They can’t possibly do that because you can’t have life
without DNA. Because what we talked about earlier, the proteins turnover in
seconds to minutes, you can’t have a set living cell replicating cell without
The ability to remake all the components on a continual basis. So I would say
we definitely created a new life form that has never happened before, For, by
humans in history, and we’ve shown the principle that the genetic code is the
driving force of life Even though you change the code, you change the species,
we’re trying to do it without a cake mix, But it still gets down to definitions
of well, you know, you didn’t make the ribosome yourself. You didn’t make These
other proteins yourself.
That’s right. So You didn’t make the DNA.
The fact that you can convert life by writing the genetic
code from scratch, we There were 4 bottles of chemicals, I think, makes it more
of a theoretical argument than, an actual one, but proving that We can take
just the genetic code with components and get a cell de novo. I I think would
be a nice addition.
Yeah. K. There’s 4 questions from this, person named Cruz
Cruz. First one, how resilient Arthur cells now he’s bringing up Michael Levin
again, a different person. Michael Levin says they are quite remarkable in
adapting to harsh environments. Are cells intrinsically resilient?
There’s no universe state universal statement about it. We
we have microbial forms that live in pH eleven Water, we have ones that live
in, extreme acid pH, pH 1 or less. If you put your finger in the water, the
skin would dissolve. So these organisms live in that. We have organisms, I said
earlier, that live up to A 135 degrees centigrade. You know, we we would die
very rapidly at those temperatures. Proteins, sort of fall apart at a 100
degrees centigrade, but in boiling water. And so We’re beginning to think it’s
the boiling action that, mechanical action.
Mechanical action, not just temperature alone that Causes
them to fall apart. And when we C the 1st archaea, it was a methanogen with
Karl Woes. All these this is Methanogen grows about, 85 degrees centigrade,
lives by converting C 02 into methane. We have the extreme radioactive,
radiation resistant organisms, Deinococcus radiodurans The brains that can take
huge doses of radiation, basic, the radiation does break the chromosome apart,
but But it seems to have extraordinary DNA repair mechanisms, for putting it
back together. So the answer is yes. We can find life In the most extreme
environments that you can imagine, that don’t work for a human centric, view of
So this one’s kind of a yes or no questions. Could we
terraform Mars? And if so, what life form should would do that? And I would add
a a question, you know, could we terraform re terraform Earth in the science?
Could we develop a life form that could scavenge, you know, As well as a tree
does, the c o two in the atmosphere in reverse, you know, carbon carbon
capture. Anyway, could we how would you if you had bang infinite if you had
Francis Collins’ budget And Anthony Fauci’s budget. How would you use that for
doesn’t have a budget anymore unless his wife gives him one.
Yeah. How would you terror for Yeah. Mars and Earth?
Well, keep in mind that Earth didn’t start out with bang
oxygen theory. Our oxygen atmosphere came from life. So whether it came from,
panspermia life Or just spontaneous, versions here. Eventually, the cells that
convert, light into oxygen and CO Clarke why we’re alive today and a Big
portion of the organisms that we’ve discovered in the ocean. In fact, we found
all kinds of other ones that deal with light and energy. If we wipe Goes out,
we wipe out our ability to live here.
Mars doesn’t have an ocean, and it’s not common. It it
Supposedly has subsurface oceans that, you know, still has
to be totally proven, but I think the data looks pretty good on that. And, If
there’s oceans that have seawater in them and they have oxygen Or even no
oxygen, we will find life forms there.
Do you think it’s possible to terraform Mars? I mean, with
with biology alone or, you know?
So As we discussed a little bit earlier with people going up
there and things we’re sending up there, we’re already contaminating that
Whether we terraform it into, you know, an Earth like planet or, you know,
know, assess pool remains to be C, so it depends what you mean by Terraform.
I guess, make Earth 2.0 like Elon’s, you know, how we
If, You know, one of the things that the planetary
scientists are discovering, they’re discovering all these Earth like planets.
So some are just straight oceans, 100% oceans.
Water worlds. Mhmm. And, they certainly have Life, if not,
we could send, you know, a a few inoculations out there and and get some
photosynthetic organisms, going there. So, yes, under the right circumstances,
I think it’s totally possible to do that.
I wanna run an argument by you. I’ve used it on folks from
Joe Rogan to, other, individuals, and that’s the following. If I tell you My
colleague upstairs or down the hall from here in the astronomy department at
UCSD. I tell you that, she’s discovered a double planetary system, At least 2
planets. They’re both rocky core. We can tell from their mass, their density,
their orbital, periods, and their distance from their host star, which is a
type two b 2, subdwarf just like our sun. They’re in the habitable zone of that
host start. And I tell you there’s 2 planets there.
And one of them, We see, you know, there’s, like, blinking
lights, and there’s like looks like, you know, you know, superconducting,
levitating monorails. And and then, and then I just asked you. Just knowing
that, there’s one of these 2 planets has is teeming with life, technology, all
different speciation, so And I said, Craig, can you tell me what would you
guess the probability is that the neighboring planet, which we haven’t we just
haven’t had time to point The Webb telescope too, but she’ll get to it. What
would you guess the probability that that planet would have life also in the
habitable zone of that same host star system.
So let me rephrase it a little bit. I I’m certain that we
will find microbial life Ubiquitously throughout the universe. The arguments
that I’ve heard that make sense to me that expecting Evolution theory create
higher life forms, assuming that’s what we humans are. You know, there’s a lot
of random things that happened that probably helped higher life evolve here,
such as the mass extinctions, Right. And the various events that took place. So
it’s you know, there’s not a simple recipe that this was a linear track That we
went to from a viral microbial world, to higher life forms. Right. But just
like my idea that life happens, multicellular life clearly does happen.
If you look at the sheer university, of what we Now when
these things Clarke found in the deepest high temperature vents now, some of
these animals are just incredible looking, like they you know, Better than
anybody’s imagination for what space creatures would look like. So it’s really
a question of rates of evolution And conditions for that, if it hasn’t
happened, it it will happen. And it’s just, it’s more in your realm. Has there
been enough Time, you know Yeah. Is the universe too young to have that happen
Because my my argument that I keep trying to make and, you
know, people push back on me as I say, it Must be we must be able to in a
Bayesian, you know, prior Keating your prior science, it must be possible to
say something about the fecundity or fecundity of life in the universe and its
resiliency based On the Earth Mars system and that we know there are these 2 so
the system I was talking about is obviously the Earth Mars system. And the fact
that we haven’t found now we have explored every square millimeter of Mars.
But, of course and you brought this to my attention just now, you know, the
underwater, you know, potential evidence for underwater ocean, Extremophile,
you know, sanctity of extremophiles on Arthur, deemed smokers, all the stuff
that you’ve you’ve mentioned today, acidic life, radiation life, carbon
dioxide, Physics life, you know, anaerobic bacteria. So the fact that we
haven’t seen it’s impossible to say That we there’s absolutely no way we can
use the nonobservation of life in our solar system outside of Earth. And I
think it’s controversial. I don’t I understand why why it is. I mean, I have
colleagues like Lee Cronin, who’s been a guest, on the podcast remotely. I’ve
never met him.
But, you know, he thinks there’s life everywhere, and they
Kinda use this Carl Sagan argument from Contact with Bang Brian, who I had on
the podcast. She’s bang amazing person. And that’s you know, well, if there is
no life, it’s an awful waste of space. And I say, well, I went to Antarctica
twice, and I saw almost no life besides the red, you know, Patch wearing,
penguin like creatures, including science. That was it.
But if our visual acuity was different Yes. And you could
see what I So
With DNA sequencing
I guess, I mean, technological.
Yeah. The the planet would you know, if we could see
I mean, because I’ve gone diving and swimming in some of the
most pristine crystal clear water that has 10,000,000 viruses per milliliter in
it. Right? We it it’s beyond our visual acuity. Sure. And and so we don’t have
the senses is to detect life on our own planet. Mhmm. We’ve had to develop
specialized tools to do that, and Those have only happened in my lifetime. I
don’t think we’ve done the right experiments yet to look for life On Mars Mhmm.
They’re trying to.
They’re gonna be having a drill that drills down a little
bit. Yeah. It probably won’t get down to the subsurface oceans Yeah. You know
that it just need bigger equipment and things to do that. We haven’t sent a
sequencer up there yet to to try and look at things.
I guess yeah. You know, you’re out a 100% right. I guess my
my thought is
But there are high energy bonds. There are, You know,
Of life, found almost every place that’s looked.
Oh, yeah. No. I stipulate there’s life in the universe, I do
think it came from the Arthur as as we I think we’re in violent agreement about
that. Or I guess
Or it it or it it came from Mars and Earth was terraformed.
A terraform. Right. Yeah. But the question is, are there
advanced technological life? Or I think that’s the interesting question. And
some have proposed many different ways that that could happen and not C them
and there there could be so many different Yeah. Variables. But I guess, you
know, again, it has to be the current, you know, understanding has to be that
we don’t know of any. And I think we we have to be guided by it.
We have to be open minded, and people on my channel will be
screaming, you know, like, why are you so Clarke minded to UAPs being actual To
terrestrial intelligence. And and I say, look. No one would be more excited for
there to be actual aliens than a physicist. Right? Probably, you know,
molecular theorists kind of kind of
I’d love to do their genome first. Yeah. You’d love
to right. I’d love to know the physics of the 28th century.
You know? But, you know, today, when you look at what Are the actual, you know,
kind of proof text given you know, is it is there some barrier? I I it’s joke.
You’ll make fun of me, I’m sure. But, you know, we couldn’t be having this
conversation now. I mean, There it might have happened at some point in human
evolution or in the evolution of technology on this planet, whether by humans
or some other creature. But we are Using these lights, and these are kind of
rendered impossible, but for the fact that we had a lot of whales that lived on
the planet. Mhmm.
had a lot of, you know, these these primordial bacteria I
made the so if we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t be you know, it’s not like you
could make a solar panel from a solar panel. Like, the 1st computer wasn’t made
on a computer. It wasn’t designed. So to what extent are these things, you
know, dependent on or contingent upon, you know, the the exact circumstances
that we had with, you know, Early explosion of life and then and then the
petrochemicals that enabled the industrial evolution, which then enabled the in
information revolution. So
The thing that think about a couple of theory, just
probabilities and the rate of genetic mutation.
So One of the biggest findings that we talked about in the
book was that in the ocean where it’s exposed to UV light and oxygen, Instead
of single punctate organisms that we’re used to of classification, we found
these Huge clouds of tens of thousands of closely related species, all doing
photosynthesis, So it’s all generating oxygen, but differing as much as 50% in
their genetic code. Wow. Now We’re plus or minus 5% from all other mammals.
Right. Right? Like, orangutans were 1%.
So if you you think of That diversity, gene order and
function is maintained. And one of the biggest discoveries we made was that the
viruses, so the phage That sort of regulate the microbial university, in the
oceans. They don’t wanna kill their host. In fact, the most profound discovery
was that the Fays taken new copies of photosynthetic genes To upgrade the
software of their host to keep them really robust. So it makes you think
philosophic. Well, there are viruses in charge, but viruses are not living entities.
And can only reproduce And in in their host, but they keep
their host alive to do this. But the mutation rate is really high. So our
synthetic minimal cell, A group took it and took it through, 300 cell divisions
and measured in that time, So that’s that’s equivalent. I think they said
20,000, human lifespans. Mhmm. And the cell all underwent a very high rate of
mutation and became a much more robust just in this short period of time from
the minimal cell that we had created, It became a much more robust life form.
Mhmm. So when you understand these rates of mutation, particularly caused by UV
light by radiation, by chemicals.
I think it’s virtually impossible not to find Higher life,
at least multicellular life. Mhmm. And once you start multicellular life,
you’re on the route, to higher life forms because multicellular life needs to
have coordinated control centers. That’s how nervous systems develop. It’s like
the oceans, what people thought of them 10 years ago versus what our studies
showed. Somebody asked me what Ended up being a kind of a profound question. So
you proved all these things that we didn’t know exist exist. What else don’t we
And and so
The unknown unknown.
You know? So we don’t know what we don’t know, But it has to
be a lot. Just like we couldn’t detect these before DNA sequencing, we don’t
necessarily have the means to Detect, something a a 1000 light years away
whether there’s there’s, you know, intelligent life there or not. Is
there a problem with information overload that you’re gonna
just have like you said, we only know 1% of what the human genome for 20 years,
thanks to you. So collecting more and more, is it just kind of like I can’t
even think of the analogies. Like, one of my kids Collects Pokemon cards, and
he’ll never be able to do anything with them because he’s gonna run out of
interest before he runs out of available Pokemons. Right? So is this
Well, I I it it can Brian until there’s new tools developed.
Right? I mean and so In your field, you’re looking for new methods to pick up
new signals. Yeah. I think the most profound discovery in history Would be to
not find life everywhere else. I think that would be the more disturbing
finding than to find the ubiquity throughout the universe. And just
statistically, Now that we know how many Earth like planets there are in the
Goldilocks zone, I’m certain there has to The higher life than just microbial
What would count, so I I’ve asked this in the context of my
cosmology friends who are now along with my Myself and my team, mates on the
Simons Observatory, were poised theory are 17 fundamental elementary
artificial, neutrinos, quarks, electron, photon, On Higgs boson, etcetera. 3 of
them, we don’t know their energy, or their mass energy levels. We know that
there’s a bound. We have a lower limit, and we have an upper limit, but we
haven’t detected their mass, the We know they have mass from neutrino oscillation
experiments. We know from cosmology that and from, laboratory experiments that
they have an upper limit that they be bigger than or else they would have been
detected and measured. So I asked my high energy collider physics friends, you
know, the guys, the Science, the, You know, the Fermis, etcetera. I say to
them, what degree of belief will you have when we on the Simons Observatory,
hopefully, in 4 years’ time or less, We tell you the mass of the neutrino is
exactly 0.025, mill you know, electron volts. 27 electron Which is consistent
with upper and lower limits.
Will you believe it? Because now we’re on your turf. Now we
are infringing upon the the land last trodden or first Trodden by the
Lawrence’s and the Fermi’s and the Oppenheimer’s, you know, laboratory
collision physics. We’re now using the cosmos Moses are particle collect. Will
you trust us? And I get about 5050. Half of them say, yeah. We’ll believe it.
Half of them say no. Unless I can reproduce it a lab experiment, I won’t
I wanna ask you. My astronomer friends, you know, see a
signature of, you know, methane or, you know, Some kind of weird, you know,
carbon dioxide or or something like that on another planet.
Carbon bang. Yeah. They they see a benzene ring or Ever.
Yeah. Or or, you know, they and it’s not like all ditch or you know? Will you
believe it? Will you believe that what will it take for The whole biology
community to accept that an astronomer has made a discovery of their domain’s
expertise, I e, life. DNA, what what would it be?
But that’s happened over and over again, in my view Mhmm.
That that these chemicals Those are found and, you know, my view, every place
we have the same chemical components, we’re gonna have life.
But we won’t be able to do a lot. I mean, we made chemical
experiments. We can do we can go to To the salt flats of of Chile. And then we
can go to Old Faithful. We bang say, oh, yeah. They are but we can’t do we
can’t say, well, here’s this chemical. It might not be DNA. It might be
It’s most likely gonna be DNA because we find the nucleic
acid building blocks out there. We find The protein building blocks out there
We need tools that maybe could detect polymers of those
things, versus but the bond does Show you that there’s connections.
I I mean, I I I assume those things are widely accepted. I
didn’t know anybody doubted it, but I guess In the state of people not
believing science at all.
I’ll just say, like, if you couldn’t rep if you couldn’t
throw it into into shotgun C, are you you’d never be able to touch it. It’s
It’s 80 light years away. You know?
Well, you know, science is a very bizarre field,
particularly compared to the Political domain today. And there’s a lot that’s
flawed in science. You know, we’re up to 25% of papers are are fraudulent to
some experiment, and with chat GTP, I’m sure that that’s gonna get worse.
There’s Twenty times more scientists alive today than when I
got my PhD at UCSD in 1975, which means it’s 20 times harder to get a Nobel
Prize presumably or other things. But,
Infinitely in in my case. Yeah.
But The the ethics of science, at least what I was taught
here by the best biochemists in the world was an essential part of science. And
that slipped away, and it’s totally Flipped away to nothing in politics and and
the fake news. And, you know, people will believe theory soap opera, but they
won’t Believe what comes out of science. There’s a lot that’s wrong in science.
I was Keating things earlier like junk DNA and and other Oceans like that, the
difference between science and politics is science is self correcting. Yes. You
you can have these crazy bullshit ideas that you wonder how they ever
developed, and science is not infallible because it’s done by people that, you
know, want their story, want you know, it’s part of their fame, to become
dogma, but it’s self corrected. And, you know, the Voyage Arthur corrected more
dogma in one set of experiments than a A lot of things have.
And and to me, that’s that’s the real pure beauty about
science. It is self correcting. It’s loaded with false ideas and false notions
and limited thinking because we didn’t have the data. That’s why people thought
there were 300,000 human genes. Soon as we had the data, that changed
overnight. All these things will eventually be self Directing how much of
society believes them is a different thing than at least the upper end of the
scientific computers. The people that are doing science in Keating ethics first,
you know, which I hope is still the majority of scientists, but it’s, You know,
we’re being challenged all the time with these notions. So, the the self
correcting nature of it means that, You know, all the future discoveries are
are gonna be mind bending.
Yeah. So one last question from the audience. This is From a
friend, Greg. He was asking about your thoughts on this new discovery or this
new gene editing treatment that cuts dangerous cholesterol. It was a very small
study, but I guess that scientists at Verve Therapeutics in Boston, they
announced that theory treatment appeared to reduce cholesterol levels Clarke in
science appears to be safe, but there’s only 10 patients. I guess that’s better
than nope, you know, 6 rats or something. You know? But what are your thoughts
about this. Would you ever undergo, you know, gene editing for for, for
So there’s 2 kinds of gene editing. Gene editing, that’s on
ex vivo. She takes cells out of the body. You change genes. So this is being
done for new approaches to cancer chemotherapy. A lot of diseases it It’s very
effective. It’s, in my mind, totally ethical and reasonable to do. The other
type of Gene editing is germline editing where you change your genetic code for
all future descendants of you.
In the sperm or egg? Or Yes. And that’s what we’re not ready
for. We don’t have enough knowledge to know how to do that. People are still
with limited thinking that there’s 1 gene, 1 function. In fact, there’s
pleiotropism as the The rule, not the exception. We did editing of the pig
genome and, to get Pig organs, for human transplantation.
Can you get them to chew their cud? Because I would really
like to start eating them, you know. I’m kosher, so I can’t. But, if you could
edit their genes and make them chew theory Well,
so we put human genes in the big. So I I don’t know if Eat
Brian from those is that cannibalism now. But, but we’ve changed it So that the
organs aren’t immediately rejected. There’s you know, we’ve only changed ten
Gene so far, but the 2 heart transplants that have been done with our 10 gene,
pig hearts lasted longer than the first Human to human transplants, but they
still didn’t last for a super long time. You know, there’s a 1000000 people
that need Kidney is a year on the US and can’t get them, and so we’re trying
this approach. But the reason I’m starting this So I sequenced the strain of
pigs that we were using, and we looked for a place what we call a landing pad,
A place in the genome that’s not subject to bang combination and genetic
variation. So we could Certain new genes there and not have them, be part of,
you know, rapid evolution and changes. We don’t know enough yet about How the
human genome functions, you know, we’re lucky these studies with the pig worked
out, and I think it’s because we did that preliminary work.
CRISPR is a wonderful discovery and a wonderful tool, but a
lot of people don’t understand the fundamentals of it. CRISPR has what’s called
off target effects. So it’s used on you know, you use DNA primers. These are
just short pieces There’s a DNA sequence. You pick them that recognize the site
that you want to change. But in 6,000,000,000 base pairs in the human genome,
there’s Multiple sites, so they’re called off target effects. So people look at
the gene they’re interested in, they see they’re making the changes they want.
But when we use CRISPR editing the pig, we we sequence the whole genome, to
look for off target effects that could be knocking out another gene.
So we’re not ready to use CRISPR alone To do germline gene
therapy. So all these things sound great. People have talked for decades. You
know, When I first started the human gene, that’s ever all I ever got on TV
interviews are are we gonna edit the human genome and genome ethicists like to
talk about, you know, the ethics of doing enhancements, versus getting rid of
diseases. So it’s a it’s a Face, we’re very early on and not ready for germ
Got it. Well, we’ve reached the point where my bladder will
not allow us To continue beyond these final 3 questions, and they’re all in
some way related to sir Arthur c Clarke. With, our director, Eric Theory,
recently. And so you know that, Arthur c. Clark was very quotable. And, in
fact, We’ll get to the origin of the name of this podcast at the very end of
these 3 questions artificial one of the 3. But the first one hearkens to his
famous statement that any sufficiently The advanced technology is indistinguishable
from magic. And, that’s a quote we open every podcast with because We have him
recorded in his own voice.
Yeah. And I wanna ask you, of all the inventions and all the
discoveries that human beings have made, either yours or others, which Which
one do you find the most magical and the most, you know, bemusing and and
delightful of all human
We were totally stunned when we transplanted the chromosome
and it booted up and created a new species that
You know? It’s pretty cool.
That’s what we were hoping for, but but it was theory cool.
Let’s actually see it happen.
You know, I depend on breakthroughs in physics and
theorists. We’re trying to characterize the phenotype of individuals. You know,
I’m blown away by how effective MRI works by looking at vibration of water
molecules, and how that can diagnose, cancers with some of the post processing
algorithms that were developed here at UCSD. So, you know, when it’s not part
of The repertoire we can do with our hands or we can see with our visual acuity
It it, of course, all seems like magic because if you’re not
using those tools, you you can’t see it.
That’s right. That’s what, my favorite quote from Galileo.
He said, you should measure what’s measurable and make measurable what’s not
yet. So I think that’s, exactly in line with what you said. Okay.
Well, that’s Galileo.
I did it. That’s Galileo. Yeah. That’s Galileo, Einstein.
I’ve got Carl Sagan. I only have 1 of a person who’s actually on the podcast,
and it’s Noam Chomsky. It’s somewhere over there. I can’t find it.
Brought my bobble head that I was Oh, yeah.
I’ll expect that for you around too. I’ll come visit you in,
JCVI. Okay. Next question is another quote from sir Arthur, and he said the
following. He said, when an elderly but Distinguished science says something is
possible. He is very likely to be correct. But when he says something is
impossible, Well, he’s most likely wrong. And I wanna ask you, not calling you
elderly or what have you, but, but I wanna ask you, what have you been wrong
about? What do you change your mind about? What do you regret, if anything?
Well, I’m on my 3rd marriage.
Well, The 2nd marriage is a triumph of of, of hope over
experience. What’s the 3rd marriage?
So I I I learned from my Takes and
Iterated. It’s side science scientific method.
Slow learner, and, I I finally got it right, But it took a
while. Yeah. I think what I’ve been most wrong about, sadly, is gauging people
and And their motivations. The most delightful experience I had was at Solera
where people just Came in, wanted to be part of it. They believed in what I was
doing. They wanted to be part of history. They wanted to contribute their
knowledge to that in the purest fashion, and and Everybody exceeded even their
own expectations of themselves with doing things. That that was the best of
scientific humanity that that I’ve ever personally experienced.
Mhmm. When I started human longevity, I naively kind of
expected the same thing. But when I started Solera, the world hadn’t heard of
me. Other scientists had, but, you know, it was pretty much an unknown. And now
I was a known name, one of the 10 most known names currently in science. Yeah.
And Despite what people said, their motivations were clearly very different, to
come and join the project to Try and mix phenotype with genotype and and create
human longevity. And, I I take people at Face value, which I learned is not
always the wisest thing to do, but, and my mistake is reading My motivations
and ideas into other people.
And, and I’ve been helped. You You you you’ve read my book,
so you know you know, I was thrown on the brig twice. You know, I’ve had some
wonderful second chances and second Opportunities, and and I constantly believe
in giving people second tries and second chances. It works out probably 1 to 2%
of the the time. And and that’s a disappointment, you know, because it was so
profound in in my own life. Yeah. So I I’d say my biggest failing has been it’s
been my biggest success, and my biggest failing is selection
Work with. Mhmm. So the last question actually maybe touches
upon what you were just saying, but maybe we can elaborate a bit more. And
that’s the final Of sir Arthur’s famous quotes, which is actually the origin of
the name of this podcast, and he said the only way to know the limits of the
possible is to transcend them and go into the impossible. That’s my podcast
name. I wanna ask you in the form of advice to your younger self. You speak
candidly about your time in Vietnam and how you actually attempted suicide by
swimming out to Obviously, it didn’t work. Thank god, because the world would
have been devastated.
Right? I wanna ask you. If you had 30 seconds With your 20
year old self, what would you say? What would you give him to give him the
courage rather to go into the impossible?
So I actually learned the lessons that are key to my
success, Probably in Vietnam. I learned some of them earlier, being a
competitive swimmer. You know, I was a lousy student, and I know now why. It
it’s because I have aphantasia instead of a photographic memory, and the school
System selects for photographic memories, and and so I nearly flunked out of
school. And, Arthur of believing in myself is It was when I started from
nothing and became a champion swimmer. And that, you know, sports do give people
a lot of self confidence, because you learn physically what you’re capable of,
and I would beat people that were technically much better swimmers than me,
just because I was was more motivated to win. My mentor here at UCSD, Nate
Kaplan, said the biggest failing that most scientists make is they talk
themselves out of doing the experiment. And that’s true.
You see it over and over again everywhere you look. And Some
people are afraid to succeed. Some people are afraid to fail. That that you
have Hausner syndrome. It universe all all the range of things. In Vietnam, I
learned all I had to lose was my life and came close to doing that a a number
of occasions. 1, as you say, was potentially self induced, but, a shark told me
to wise up. I came back probably more fearless, you know, than was good for me.
Reporter from Nature, who read the book and was writing a
review on it, she goes, you had a lot of near death experiences on this in this
voyage. And I said, well, they They weren’t planned to be that. I’ve learned to
believe in my unique type of thinking, the combination of conceptual thinking
With intuition, I’ve learned to trust it. More importantly, I believe in myself
and my ideas.
in it’s a narrow range because you slip a little bit one
way, they can become delusions of grandeur and you Go off the crazy spectrum. I
think I’m successful from having Tremendous capabilities of doing things
myself. You know, one of my biggest problems in science was giving up doing the
experiments because I could do them so much better than anybody else in taking
over on theory. But it’s believing in yourself and, you know, Failure is
nothing compared to losing your life, you know, for a worthless cause.
Yeah. And seeing it, through those lenses and so it’s quite
emotional to hear you speak with such candor about it. And, yeah, to me, it’s
I’m thankful that you that you saw the light or that shark intervened and,
however however it happened serendipitously, we’ll never know, but they say, I
believe it was, Schopenhauer, or no. It was Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard said life
can only be understood in reverse, but, unfortunately, it must be lived going
forward. Yeah. I wanna thank you, Craig, for your, so much of your time and
your influence on Me and millions of people and, we call you the Merlin of the
of the of the biological realm. So thank you so much for sharing your time with
you for having