Addition, and key: A Conversation with J. Craig Venter (continued)

CRAIG VENTER: As described in detail in my book, and as I will discuss in my Plenary lecture, the ability to rapidly read the genetic code and transform that genetic code into digital information, coupled now with the ability to write the genetic code, creates all kinds of unique applications that have not been possible before. What we did with NASA out in the Mojave Desert recently was to test what we describe as our “sending unit,” which can sequence DNA in the field and send it to the cloud very quickly for analysis. What that allows, whether the studies are being done on Mars or at some other site, is to do sample testing and sample return without needing a giant rocket that can blast off of Mars to bring back samples.

The same things are true for sampling remotely to test the emergence of new viruses in different parts of the globe. Technology with rapid sequencing and the ability to deliver those sequences rapidly through the Internet is already changing things. We have the real-world example in which we did this with the H7N9 vaccine. The virus was sequenced in China, and at the request of the US government we downloaded that sequence information from the Internet. We synthesized the H7N9 virus for the CDC [Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention] and for Novartis, and Novartis already has a vaccine that has completed Phase I clinical trials. This all happened from taking that digital information and converting it back into DNA information.

This is just the beginning of being able to send biology through the Internet and recreate it at the other end. We are pretty excited about the potential of doing that and coming up with applications that probably can’t even be imagined yet by me or most others. We will be able to transmit biology via the Internet and recreate it, and this will change the delivery of vaccines and medicines. We can already download insulin from the Internet, and we have shown the ability to do so with a flu vaccine. These are only the beginning of a major transformation in what will be possible.

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