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Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves [Hardcover]

George M. Church , Ed Regis
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 2 2012 0465021751 978-0465021758
Imagine a future in which human beings have become immune to all viruses, in which bacteria can custom-produce everyday items, like a drinking cup, or generate enough electricity to end oil dependency. Building a house would entail no more work than planting a seed in the ground. These scenarios may seem far-fetched, but pioneering geneticist George Church and science writer Ed Regis show that synthetic biology is bringing us ever closer to making such visions a reality. In 'Regenesis', Church and Regis explore the possibilities-and perils-of the emerging field of synthetic biology. Synthetic biology, in which living organisms are selectively altered by modifying substantial portions of their genomes, allows for the creation of entirely new species of organisms. Until now, nature has been the exclusive arbiter of life, death, and evolution; with synthetic biology, we now have the potential to write our own biological future. Indeed, as Church and Regis show, iteven enables us to revisit crucial points in the evolution of life and, through synthetic biological techniques, choose different paths from those nature originally took. Such exploits will involve far more than just microbial tinkering. Full-blown genomic engineering will make possible incredible feats, from resurrecting woolly mammoths and other extinct organisms to creating mirror life forms with a molecular structure the opposite of our own. These technologies-far from the out-of-control nightmare depicted in science fiction-have the power to improve human and animal health, increase our intelligence, enhance our memory, and even extend our life span. A breathtaking look at the potential of this world-changing technology, 'Regenesis' is nothing less than a guide to the future of life.

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Review

Science News
“Reading the first book penned by Church, a Harvard biologist and polymath, is like falling down a rabbit hole straight into his fermenting brain. Church’s wide-ranging career includes developing novel methods for reading the genetic instruction manual, or genome, of creatures from bacteria to humans. Now he focuses on synthesizing those instructions from scratch.... [A] dizzying survey of how scientists have unearthed the secrets of living organisms and are now using that information to revamp life itself.”

Robert T. Gonzalez, io9
“[A] phenomenal read.”

Wall Street Journal
“A definitive account of the advances and business ventures that define this new science [of synthetic biology]…. When history is written centuries from now, it is more likely that writing DNA will be the most enduring innovation [of our age].”

New Scientist
“Bold and provocative… Church and Regis offer a behind-the-scenes look at synthetic biology, a rapidly emerging field that is reprogramming the genetic code to create organisms and functions not found in nature. Regenesis tells of recent advances that may soon yield endless supplies of renewable energy, increased longevity and the return of long-extinct species.”

Nature
“The life sciences emerge as the new high-tech in this paean to synthetic biology…. Each step in the genome’s evolution serves as a springboard for expositions of how synthetic biology will revolutionize renewable energy, multivirus resistance, and more.”

Mike Loukides, O’Reilly Radar
“If there’s one book that can turn this movement into a full-blown revolution, this is it.”

Derek Jacoby, O’Reilly Radar
“George Church and Ed Regis pull off an exciting and speculative romp through the field of synthetic biology and where it could take us in the not too distant future…. Regenesis provides an accessible and engaging introduction to the revolutionary potentials of synthetic biology and should be of interest to both experts and a general science audience.”

The Scientist
“[A]n important and surprisingly accessible book, magisterially structured to intertwine the accelerated history of synthetic biology with its precedents in humanity’s earlier technological revolutions and in the epochal evolution of life itself. The book packs in a superb short course on life’s molecular workings, enabling the reader to grasp how we can actually contemplate resurrecting mammoths and Neanderthals, brewing biofuel from seawater and sunlight, engineering total immunity to viral infection, storing data in DNA, and more.”

Nathan Myhrvold, Founder and CEO, Intellectual Ventures
“A delightfully opinionated, visionary and controversial romp through synthetic biology, which is one of the most important technologies of our time."

Eric Topol, Professor of Genomics, The Scripps Research Institute, and author of The Creative Destruction of Medicine
“Literally reinventing nature could provide solutions to intractable problems with the energy supply, global warming, and human health. In Regenesis, George Church, a pioneer and pre-eminent force in promoting our ability to read DNA sequence, now guides us to the future: writing DNA sequence. Teaming up with Ed Regis, Church provides a mind-bending, tour de force account of how this seventh industrial revolution will take hold, and how ultimately the survival of our planet and the human species may rely upon rewriting the code of life. An enthralling journey into the future—with truly profound implications—that should not be missed.”

Stewart Brand, author of Whole Earth Discipline
“Here you will find the bleeding, screaming, thrilling edges of what is becoming possible with genomic engineering, handsomely framed in the fine-grained fundamentals of molecular biology. It is a combination primer and forecast of what is coming in this ‘century of biology’ from the perspective of a leading pioneer in the science.”

Kirkus Reviews
“[An] authoritative, sometimes awe-inspiring book…. A valuable glimpse of science at the edge.”

Publishers Weekly
“Exhilarating and scary facts suffuse this book about bioengineering by leading Harvard genetics professor and entrepreneur Church…. [W]hen Church describes current work building microbes with minimal genes, the book takes off – and eventually soars…. [A] stimulating book.”

Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Better Angels of Our Nature
“A thoughtful introduction to one of the great frontiers of science, one with the promise of literally saving the world. George Church is one of the most brilliant scientists in the world, and in collaboration with Ed Regis he has written a book that is engaging, readable, and thoroughly fascinating.”

J. Craig Venter, Chairman and President, J. Craig Venter Institute
“Church and Regis in Regenesis have written a wonderful synopsis of the emerging field of synthetic biology and the implications from renewable plastics to ‘raising the dead.’ This is a must-read for anyone interested in the future.”

Misha Angrist, Assistant Professor, Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, and author of Here is a Human Being
Regenesis is the most compelling bit of prophecy since the Old Testament first came out in hardback.”

About the Author

George Church is Professor of Genetics at the Harvard Medical School and member of the Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering. He is the director of the Lipper Center for Computational Genetics, the Harvard DOE Genomes-to-Life Center, the NIH Center for Excellence in Genomic Science, and PersonalGenomes.org. Church was the driving force behind the Polonator G.007, a low-cost automated genomic sequencing machine. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Ed Regis is author of seven science books, most recentlyWhat Is Life?: Investigating the Nature of Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology. He lives in Sabillasville, Maryland.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brief Summary and Review Oct. 19 2012
By A. D. Thibeault TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
*A full executive summary of this book is available at newbooksinbrief dot com.

DNA was only discovered about a century ago, and it’s structure remained a mystery until about half a century ago, but since this time our knowledge and understanding of DNA has grown immensely (indeed exponentially). What’s more, this understanding has evolved to include not just an understanding of how DNA works, but also how it can be manipulated to help advance our ends. The most glaring example here is the phenomenon of genetically modified food. Though not without controversy initially (and some fringe opposition that lives on to this day), it is fair to say that genetically modified food was one of the major scientific advances of the 20th century. Over and above this, our understanding of DNA appeared to reach its most impressive manifestation with the successful sequencing of the human genome in the year 2000.

For the genetics professor and pioneering genetic engineer George Church, however, genetically modified food and the Human Genome Project are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential of genomics. Indeed, since the year 2005, the exponential growth rate in our ability to read and write DNA has increased from 1.5-fold per year (a rate that matches Moore’s law), to the incredible rate of 10-fold per year (p. 243). This explosion in scientific and technological progress has resulted in dramatic advancements in the areas of biochemicals, biomaterials, biofuels and biomedicine. What’s more, advancements in these technologies are but in their incipient stage, and the future of genomics promises to dwarf these initial achievements.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book seems to attempt to reach people with first-year college knowledge in biology as well as people simply interested in synthetic biology. Some of the sections contain biological knowledge that is hard to follow (without a degree in biology), and the frustrating bit is that you don't really need those sections to understand the synthetic biology sections.

All in all it's a good book, but split between two distinct levels.
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5.0 out of 5 stars very engaging. Aug. 28 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Real life trumps fiction. Books like this make you realise what a interesting place the world really is. Read this book and you will see how close we really are to what sci fi was 40 years ago.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  60 reviews
57 of 65 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars could have been one chapter Jan. 23 2013
By Steve J. Sullivan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A book outlining the future of sythetic biology and its implications is long overdue, but this book achieves neither. The examples given of synthetic biology are poorly described and tend to jump around (the very interesting chapter titles actually have no bearing on what is written and give the false impression that the book is structured). The authors spent very little time developing a cohesive philosophy about how our culture should approach this novel technology and instead resort to a "gee isn't that cool" kind of approach.

Overall, the book just seemed really fluffy. Many of the points made were repeated over and over without any depth. Instead, the authors fill pages by going into extensive detail about irrelevant matters, such as devoting several pages to describing the building where a convention on synthetic biology was hosted.

As a biology researcher, I can say this is definitely not for anyone with a background in science. Also, lay people looking for examples of synthetic biology should look elsewhere because this book does a poor job explaining things. Finally, those interested in the ethics of these issues will not find any interested arguments here on either side.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brief Summary and Review Oct. 19 2012
By A. D. Thibeault - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
*A full executive summary of this book is available here: An Executive Summary of George M. Church and Ed Regis's 'Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves'

DNA was only discovered about a century ago, and its structure remained a mystery until about half a century ago, but since this time our knowledge and understanding of DNA has grown immensely (indeed exponentially). What's more, this understanding has evolved to include not just an understanding of how DNA works, but also how it can be manipulated to help advance our ends. The most glaring example here is the phenomenon of genetically modified food. Though not without controversy initially (and some fringe opposition that lives on to this day), it is fair to say that genetically modified food was one of the major scientific advances of the 20th century. Over and above this, our understanding of DNA appeared to reach its most impressive manifestation with the successful sequencing of the human genome in the year 2000.

For the genetics professor and pioneering genetic engineer George Church, however, genetically modified food and the Human Genome Project are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential of genomics. Indeed, since the year 2005, the exponential growth rate in our ability to read and write DNA has increased from 1.5-fold per year (a rate that matches Moore's law), to the incredible rate of 10-fold per year (p. 243). This explosion in scientific and technological progress has resulted in dramatic advancements in the areas of biochemicals, biomaterials, biofuels and biomedicine. What's more, advancements in these technologies are but in their incipient stage, and the future of genomics promises to dwarf these initial achievements. In his new book 'Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves' George Church takes us through the developments that have occurred recently in the area of genomics, and also where these developments are likely to take us in the future.

When it comes to the current state of the field, manipulating DNA has already allowed us to produce organisms with new features, such as foodstuffs with novel properties, greater productivity and nutritional value, and resistance to pathogens. Over and above this, micro-species have been programmed to do such things as detect impurities in drinking water, produce electricity from waste-water (and purify the waste-water in the process), produce blood, produce vaccines, take pictures, and even store information. Indeed, the potential to use DNA as a store of information is already recognized to be the likely next leap in computer science, and is poised to initiate a revolution in informatics (just imagine storing all of the information in Wikipedia [in every language] on a chip the size of a blood cell, for a cost of $1 for 100,000 copies [p. 197]).

And, of course, the potential to manipulate genomes does not end with other species: it can also be extended to our own. Actualizing this potential is not far off, and includes such things as increasing intelligence, gaining full immunity to any pathogen (real or hypothetical), and dramatically extending the lifespan (if not removing mortality altogether).

In addition to manipulating genomes for the purpose of creating new biological features, the productive capacity of the genome can also be exploited to produce new substances and materials, such as chemicals, plastics, fuels, drugs, and vaccines. Successes in each of these areas has already been achieved, and the field is on the cusp of scaling-up these processes to an industrial scale. What's more, manipulating genes shows the promise of expanding the current repertoire of the building blocks of substances and materials to produce a whole new array thereof.

Church's book both is both invigorating and inspiring. However, it should be noted that the book is fairly technical throughout, and will only be easily-digested by a reader who already has a fairly deep understanding of the field. Having said that, an educated general reader equipped with a good amount of patience will have no trouble following the argument, and should learn a great deal in the process. A full executive summary of the book is available here: An Executive Summary of George M. Church and Ed Regis's 'Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves'
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Book! Fascinating, Fun and Frightening! Oct. 10 2012
By javajunki - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I must agree with the above reviewer...this is an absolutely terrific book. Thanks to the superb review (and obvious enthusiasm) I opted to order this book on the spur of the moment while listening to a short interview with the author. Couldn't be more pleased. This book is absolutely fantastic. It's fun, it's downright frightening in some ways but it is fabulous across the board.

The author does a terrific job of making this somewhat complex topic accessible to the average reader. There are areas where I find myself wanting more information and a few areas of a bit less interest but overall, it presents a dramatic future view of the potential of synthetic biology including the promise and peril. Will it look exactly like this in the future...probably not but this gives great insight into the direction and trends rather than the specifics. Readers are likely to find at least a few things that are downright thrilling as well as some that are chilling to even contemplate. Clearly the legal limits haven't kept up with the emerging technology...an area that will need a lot of attention at some point in the future. Delightful book!
32 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally Amazing!!! Oct. 5 2012
By Tarpitboss - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Regenesis, by George Church & Ed Regis is just published and... WOW! This read is super interesting, inspiring, fascinating and quite amazing. If there is a downside, the chemspeak is too dense in some places to make for easy, first time coherent reading BUT if you just power on straight ahead it all starts to sink in. We are heading on fast forward into territory that will change the future of humanity very fast indeed. Science fiction writers NEED to read this, write about the ideas to make them palatable for the film making community and general public so that the inevitable techno-shock waves are minimized. Share this one far and wide!
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Think things you haven't thought before Dec 2 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you want to think things you've haven't thought before, read "Regenisis." I read the book straight through as I do with books I like a lot. Authors, Church and Regis form a good writing relationship. It seems like they might have equally participated in writing the book. The result is tight, readable prose, and understandable complex ideas, and most important to me, surprising ideas. I'll admit that where Church obviously wrote detailed explanations I didn't understand a lot of it, but Regis balanced out those spots. Regis is an awesome science writer. I imagine most readers who choose this book will understand the most detailed, most technical writing, however. Deciphering who wrote what most heavily was evident. Both wrote with passion and skill. I could not help but wonder where Church gets enough time to write a book like this, even with a co-writer. It's a book that is good from beginning to end, no soft spots in the middle.
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