The Promise and Perils of the New Genomics

Sunday, October 5, 2008
First Aired: 
Sunday, January 7, 2007

What Is It

John and Ken welcome their special guest, noted scientist and entrepreneur, Craig Venter.  From the mapping of the human genome, to the patenting of synthetic life forms, to bio-prospecting for genetic gold in the depths of the oceans and the deepest reaches of the world's rain forests, Craig Venter has been at the forefront of a revolution in genomics.  Join the hosts and their guest as they explore the ethical, legal, and economic issues associated with the new genomics.  This program was recorded live at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.

Listening Notes

John and Ken begin by introducing the wonderful audience at the Smithsonian Institute where this week's show was recorded. Ken starts off the discussion by painting an optimistic future for genetics and genomics, but John points out that human beings have a history of discovering new technology before they have the moral and social institutions to handle the ramifications of its use. Ken concedes that there are problems and perils down the line, but he thinks that there are still reasons to be optimistic about the new world genetics could help create.

John introduces Craig Venter, a noted geneticist and one of the leading scientists for the promotion of genomics. Craig begins by describing exactly what a genome is and how it can be used to understand the history and future of our species. Ken asks Craig whether or not we are entering a new golden age after the sequencing of the human genome, and how realistic the predictions made by some individuals have been. Craig discusses his views on these ideas. John questions the simplicity of the popular conception of genomics and reading off the genetic code, and Craig tries to correct some of the common misconceptions about genes and what they do.

Ken brings up the size of the genome and Craig discusses the differences between fruit flies and human beings. How can we be so different but only possess about twice the number of genes? John and Craig go on to discuss junk DNA and what it tells us about our evolutionary past. Craig mentions that his DNA is the only human code completely sequenced, and because of this limited data set, scientists are still very much in the dark about what is nature and what is nurture. John, Ken, and Craig discuss some of the philosophical ramifications of many of the wild ideas which may become reality in the next century. John brings up the possibilities that genetics and genomics hold not only for human health but ecosystem and world preservation, and Craig discusses how genetic manipulation may become one of the main solutions to the global warming problem.

John, Ken, and Craig take questions from the Smithsonian audience ranging from climate change, genetic engineering, nightmare scenarios concerning genetic extinction, and the scientific education system in the United States.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 4:53): Polly Stryker talks to scientists on the cutting edge of genomics and genetics about the hopes and perils of gene therapy and cancer cures.
  • 60-Second Philosopher (Seek to 49:41): Ian Shoales speeds through some odd cases of ownership and property in the world of genes and genomics.