The Loom

Craig Venter has followed up on his announcement that he and his coworkers have assembled a virus from its genome sequence. Now there’s a paper available at the Proceeding of the National Academy of Science web site. A bleary-eyed late-night inspection suggests that this is not a flawless Xerox machine for viruses; the researchers had to cast away lots of misassembled versions. (Still, they were able to isolate a perfect sequence in just two weeks.) More interestingly, the authors talk a bit about how they can use this same method to cobble together chunks of much bigger genomes to make synthetic microbes. That’s when things will get really interesting.

The paper ends on a grand note that takes a squirrely turn at the last moment:

“Synthetic genomics will become commonplace and will provide the potential for a vast array of new and complex chemistries altering our approaches to production of energy, pharmaceuticals, and textiles.”

Textiles? Come on, folks. You may be on the verge of creating new life. Is this really the time to be talking about a new line of socks?

Comments

  1. #1 Karl Hallowell
    December 15, 2003

    Textiles are more important than you imply. For example, a lot of advanced composites (carbon fiber, kevlar, etc) are really textile products. Further, weaving is a natural (at least for people) way to compose many products (not just socks). For example, it’s so easy to make a boat hull, aircraft body, etc out of carbon fiber that you could pull someone from ancient Rome or China and get them to do the job.

    And if a space elevator ever gets built on Earth, it will have to be made out of as yet undiscovered composite materials. A leading contender is bucky tubes. The only problem is that the tubes are too slippery right now to use. Using currently developed resins, I recall that you need extraordinary length of a fiber for it’s width (something like a few millimeters length versus a few hundred nanometers diameter).

  2. #2 Scott Wickstein
    December 17, 2003

    Socks matter too! I want better socks!

    To the totally not educated reader, this is all rather mindblowing, I must say.

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