For J. Craig Venter, 10 years is too long to wait: He wants to increase production of synthetic alternative fuels replacing fossil fuels within the next year or two.

Venter, the man who mapped the human genome in 2001 and one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people, detailed his current work on synthetic fuels, among other projects, in the Intercultural Center Auditorium Wednesday.

Venter began his speech with a review of past accomplishments, including putting together the most complete genomic sequence to date.

“I used a math algorithm, which was the key to shattering the genome, and then reassigned it and rebuilt it,” Venter said.

The J. Craig Venter Institute has laboratories on both coasts, in Rockville, Md., and La Jolla, Calif. The institute is at the center of solving many current scientific and public problems such as alternatives to fossil fuels and learning more about the origins and current makeup of mankind.

“We have some modest goals – increase basic understanding of human life and replace the petrol-chemical industry,” Venter said. “The next big step is to define the human phenotype.”

Venter also mentioned some basic discoveries that are important in the context of evolution, which he said are aligned with Darwinian ideas. Evolutionary biologists have discovered that humans are about 5 to 6 percent different than chimpanzees, much higher than the original thought of 1 to 3 percent. Humans, whose genomes were originally thought to differ from each other by less than 1 percent, are now believed to differentiate from 1 to 3 percent.

Humans are also not as clean as once thought – at least biologically speaking, Venter said.

“It is no longer clear that humans were ever completely sterile. There is evidence that shows newborns have microbes,” Venter said.

His work with synthetic genomics also has implications for public health.

The first genomic-based vaccine is in phase three of clinical trials. Its purpose is to vaccinate infants against meningitis, and it is planned to be on the market in about a year.

Venter also realized what he said to be a “Jurassic Park” scenario, when a synthetic genome was reconstructed from the 1918 flu virus. Now, vaccines are being developed against it, and that is not all new technology can do.

“Analog biology is now convertible to digital in the computer. Life can be digitized. Can we go the other way? In 20 years, we may be able to design life from scratch,” he said.

He also joked about being thankful for restriction enzymes – enzymes that among other things cut up foreign DNA to keep it from piloting a cell – in the role of evolution.

“These are the barriers to prevent a person from converting his or her sex partner into another species. This happens all the time in nature,” he said.

But the focus of the lecture, how to deal with environmental concerns, is high on Venter’s agenda.

“We are releasing 4.2 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year,” he said, which is why he is searching for new higher energy content fuels, and is trying to devise a way to convert CO2 into energy-producing products to shift the equilibrium.

As for his work on human genomes, Venter does not believe there are ethical implications of putting a person’s genetic makeup into public record. He said that concerns of a genetic makeup showing a high risk for a certain illness hurting a chance for employment or an insurance rate would likely not be realized.

“Once we get everyone’s sequence, it will show we are all at risk for something,” Venter said.

The Lecture Fund, The Georgetown University Department of Biology and the Georgetown Pre-Medical Society sponsored the lecture.

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