This year we celebrate that it is 300 years ago the father of the sciences of taxonomy and botany, Carl von Linne, or Linneaus, was born on the farm Raashult, in the central highlands of Southern Sweden.
“God created, Linneaus organised” was his motto. Linneaus was a man of the enlightenment but he didn’t think that nature could be a self-regulated complex system, but that there had to be a creator with a plan and that he had been given the task to reveal this plan. Intelligent design is a term he probably would have been very comfortable with.
It is interesting that just this year the first totally synthetic living organism, Mycoplasma laboratus, has been given a name according to the nomenclature that Linneaus suggested. Previously, advanced bio engineering had recreated the whole genome of the influenza strain that caused the Spanish flu - from fragments of the virus extracted from frozen bodies of victims. This extinct flu strain was responsible for millions of deaths in the beginning of the previous century (On Line Opinion article).
However in this case there definitively is no God behind the creation of Mycoplasma laboratus but a man, and no ordinary man.
Craig Venter is a controversial figure among scientists. There are groups like ETC, who have taken upon themselves the role of self-appointed watchdog on behalf of the unsuspecting public, against people like Craig Venter and his privately funded research institute, the J. Craig Venter Institute.
Among Craig Venter’s previous projects is the determination of all the genes of his pet poodle, Shadow. This was preceded by the gene sequencing of one human genome by his Institute. At a joint press conference in 2001 at the White House, hosted by President Clinton, the human genome sequencing effort was proclaimed to be successfully completed and the race to achieve this milestone in biology was declared a draw between the multinational public science International Human Genome Project and the Venter Institute.
It took 13 years,$3 billion and lots of human ingenuity to complete this task.
As an example of the relentless march of technology a recently completed single human genome, of the Nobel price winner James Watson (of the Watson Crick model for the DNA double helix) reportedly took only two months and $US1 million to be sequenced by another US company. However Craig Venter could not resist making the point that his was the first fully sequenced genome.
Venter is confidently predicting that the cost of sequencing a personal genome could be reduced to about $1,000 within a decade.
Venter has also made the headlines here in Australia when he dropped by on his way around the world’s oceans with the aim to sequence the microbial content of the seas on his yacht, Sorcerer.
Essentially he was searching for useful and hitherto undiscovered new genes that he could use for creating a new tailor made micro-organism equipped with all kinds of useful features - like the capacity to produce hydrogen and ethanol.
Venter's Institute claims that its stripped-down microbe could be the key to cheap energy production.
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