>>J. Craig Venter: We’ve shown that DNA is
actually the software of life. And you saw some excellent examples of it in the previous
talk. And the thing I learned, I know who not to push too far.
[ Laughter ] But chemically, we wrote the genome, starting
with four bottles of chemicals, literally going from the 1s and 0s in the computer to
writing the four-letter alphabet. And have shown, in fact, that it’s totally interchangeable
between the digital world and the biological world.
We then wrote the entire 1.1 million letters of the genetic code, booted it up, and got
a new cell-driven totally by the software. So that’s what we call synthetic life. We
actually use living cells to boot it up, but you change the software and you change the
species.>>Rebecca Jarvis: And you — as Martine mentioned
earlier, you’re also working on doing this with pigs in order to create —
>>J. Craig Venter: Yes.>>Rebecca Jarvis: — organs for humans.
>>J. Craig Venter: We’re trying to create a humanized pig. I won’t talk about the political
implications.>>Rebecca Jarvis: A humanized pig.
>>J. Craig Venter: But it’s been done with monoclonal antibodies which were developed
in mice. Basically, the genome was changed so they would produce the human version, not
the mouse version. And those can be used in human therapy.
With rejection systems, our immune system recognizes all kinds of surface antigens.
In the case of the pig, a lot of molecules that are very close to our own, but we’re
just rewriting the genome to change all of those to the human version so that when they’re
put in the human body, our immune system will see them as human, not pig organs.
>>Rebecca Jarvis: When you did this work with the human genome under President Clinton,
that was 15-plus years ago now, you mentioned to me it took nine months to do one, and $100
million.>>J. Craig Venter: That’s right.
>>Rebecca Jarvis: And now you’re trying to do 100,000 of these in one year.
>>J. Craig Venter: Yes.>>Rebecca Jarvis: Science has come very far.
>>J. Craig Venter: The thing that’s changed, and it just changed in the last 12 months
— I’ve been waiting a long time for this — is the threshold of DNA sequencing technology
— and computing technology’s just passed this threshold that I was waiting for — where
we can now do, probably for less than a thousand dollars, very large numbers of genomes to
try and sort out some of the traits that Dr. Fallon was talking about. These are rare events,
probably fortunately, in the population, on the order of maybe one in 50,000 or so. So
we need literally millions of genomes in the database to be able to find in each of us
these patterns and understand what they mean. So it’s a law of large numbers. My genome’s
been on the Internet for 15 years now, and there’s not much more today that I can interpret
from it than we could 15 years ago. That’s ’cause there’s really not much to compare
it to. So if we start to build up hundreds of thousands
and millions of genomes with all phenotypic information that goes along with it, just
like the nice PT scans, we’re going to do quantitative MRI imaging on everybody that
we can. And what it — there’s nice software now, developed by our colleagues at UCSD,
that take these images and convert them into digital volumes, so we can get, for example,
the hippocampus volume. And you can then understand what’s in your genes associated with that
hippocampal volume and your memory. But we can measure changes in as little as three
months. In fact, we can measure changes in your brain ten years before any symptoms show
up for dementia. So it gives sort of an early warning system, it gives ability to understand
the genes associated with this, and, hopefully, new avenues to do something with it.
So it’s a massive data problem like has never been dealt with before when you think about
all the things associated with your life, including how your brain works, all your chemical
composites, your complete digital medical record. We’re measuring all the chemicals
in the bloodstream, we’re measuring the microbiome, which is about — you have 100 trillion human
cells. You have 200 trillion bacteria. It’s not a personal thing. Everybody does. And
to understand these interactions is an important part of understanding us as human.
And, obviously, this gets into the behavioral dimensions, as we just heard very nicely.
But if we are software-driven machines, like every other biological species on this planet,
understanding how to interpret that software, including the parts of the software associated
with interacting with the environment and feedback control mechanisms, we will start
to understand our species quantitatively for the first time.
Everybody’s asked questions, what’s nature and what’s nurture? We will be able to solve
in the next decade mostly of what’s nature. By difference, everything else is nurture.
>>Rebecca Jarvis: And what do you see as the human application of that knowledge?
>>J. Craig Venter: The ideal application that we see is preventative medicine.
If you know that you have these risks for different diseases, in the cases where you
can do something about it early, you can change behavior, change what you eat, maybe have
different therapies. But we’re also hoping to find the genes associated with healthy
life. For example, the scientific community has
looked for genes and changes associated with diseases and traits that they’re studying.
Nobody’s really looked for the other side of why don’t you get that disease? Why is
he not a murderer? I have a risk allele for Alzheimer’s disease.
And a lot of people are heterozygous for the apo E4 allele. In theory, if you go to 23andme
or anyplace else, it says you have a 30% risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. But not everybody,
obviously, with that allele will get it. And there’s no history of Alzheimer’s in my
family, in part ’cause the males on my father’s side died in their 50s and 60s, so never got
a chance to see if they had Alzheimer’s. But I had a quantitative MRI with radioactive
dyes to see if there was any amyloid, which you can actually detect 20 years before you
would have symptoms. And my brain is totally void of amyloid. So I have a clean bill of
health at least for the next 20 years. So, investors, it’s okay.
So why not? If I have these genes associated with increased risk, and I have (indiscernible),
not just apo E4. There must be protective alleles that also prevent that from happening.
The same is true for breast cancer and almost any other trait that you can find.
In 23andme, there’s very few, if any things in there that you say you are in the 100%
category. It’s in this one in 1,000 to maybe one in three risk. It’s never 100%.
So understanding our complexity is part of this massive computer analysis we’re going
to do. If you can turn on the protective alleles, then even if you’re at risk, you can change
things. We saw examples of how changing the environment can maybe turn on and turn off
different genes. If we understand that at a key level, we can change humanity in lots
of ways, but provide mayoral shifting medicine to a preventative medicine paradigm.
>>Rebecca Jarvis: One of the concerns is that the understanding, the acknowledgment of the
underlying propensity to be some way goes deeper and farther faster than the understanding
of how to actually prevent that thing, such that we know, for example, that you have a
propensity to have Alzheimer’s at some day in the future, whereas we don’t have a cure,
and we don’t know exactly what will prevent that.
How do you tell the consumer or the average human, this is valuable information even if
we haven’t gotten to that next phase?>>J. Craig Venter: Well, medicine has totally
proceeded on that basis. You can measure something before there’s ever a treatment or a cure
for it. And usually having a quantitative measure and understanding the underlying molecular
components will lead to these kind of treatments much faster.
But there’s sort of — it’s very clear, there’s, like, two categories of humans. There’s ones
that want to know this information and ones that don’t. And it’s amazing. That’s in every
group. If you ask medical student classes, half the class don’t want to know. It’s scary
they’re going into medicine and they’re advising everybody else on this information. But I
don’t understand how you don’t want to know. As the video said, I learned in Vietnam, knowledge
is power. Knowledge is power for your own life. It’s knowledge for your — it’s power
for your family. Preventing disease and knowing something in advance you can do something
about I think is the most empowering thing anybody could possibly know. But we obviously
don’t want to force it on people. But we want to show with clear examples by having this
data how much more you know about your life, how much more your physicians will know, how
it can totally change the directions and outcomes. Our goal is to have people have healthy, long
lives, not necessarily live to 150. But if you do have a healthy life, you’re probably
likely to have a much longer one as well.>>Rebecca Jarvis: You brought up Vietnam.
You grew up a California surfer.>>J. Craig Venter: Yes.
>>Rebecca Jarvis: Self-described slacker. And then you went to Vietnam. How much did
that shape the work and the efforts that you’re making today?
>>J. Craig Venter: Tremendously. I moved from the Bay Area to Southern California to take
up a surfing career, and got drafted off my surfboard, which was a tremendous cultural
change. [ Laughter ]
But, you know, I learned, being in the middle of a war, that if you had knowledge, you could
change the outcome of people’s lives. You know, if you didn’t have that knowledge, you
had to watch them die. So as I say, a very powerful lesson that basically has driven
me for the rest of my life.>>Rebecca Jarvis: It set you on your path.
>>J. Craig Venter: Yeah.>>Rebecca Jarvis: You knew that it was about
finding as much about the future as was humanly possible to protect as many people as humanly
possible.>>J. Craig Venter: Well, and to change the
outcomes from knowledge. You know, even looking back to what medicine was like in the 1960s,
it was frighteningly primitive. It’s still pretty primitive. I mean, we know roughly
1% of the knowledge that’s contained in our genome. Look at the examples that Martine
just gave of, you know, this story keeps happening over and over again of finding new treatments,
new avenues that go beyond conventional wisdom. That’s why I love some of the earlier stories.
And my career has largely been based on ignoring wisdom and what’s possible.
The current NIH directory turned down with prejudice a grant in 1994 to sequence the
first genome in history, as it turned out, with this new method that depended on mathematics
and computers. You know, in almost every case in history, conventional wisdom is wrong.
And we have a chance, if we have a new starting point with a new data set, to totally change
the future. I mean, this is — We’re at this threshold
in humanity. I don’t think we’ll have totally merged human machines. But I would love it
if I had a USB port on the back of my head and I —
>>Rebecca Jarvis: You would want that.>>J. Craig Venter: I would absolutely want
that.>>Rebecca Jarvis: What would you want it to
do?>>J. Craig Venter: Well, if you didn’t have
to go look up things on Google, if you could just, you know —
>>Rebecca Jarvis: You’d want it to put Google out of business?
>>J. Craig Venter: I’m going to Paris today, can I get the French app so I can speak French?
I mean, who knows. [ Laughter ]
It would really be nice if surgeons had this information. If your doctor actually knew
something besides what you tell them they found on the Internet.
[ Laughter ] People are educating their physicians. They’re
not educating themselves. We need some ways to have this digital DNA constant inner conversion
to upgrade our software and to understand it, to understand what we heard with these
behavioral traits that affect very much of society, affect people’s lives.
But it’s also an important lesson in terms of people get very caught up in the eugenics
of this. If we know what causes manic depression, we want to eliminate it. But Kay Jamison wrote
these books on how most successful people have some degree of manic depression. So we
could wipe out the success of humanity by trying to correct so-called errors in the
genome. So we don’t have the knowledge to rewrite
the human genome. We’re not trying to make smarter pigs. We’re just trying to make them
as good organ donors. We need to be very careful about trying to rewrite our own genome. But
we do have the ability to understand that information and to act on it and maybe use
the same tools that we’re using to rewrite the pig genome to rewrite the genome of a
stem cell that could then reactivate — you know, I like to coin new terms and new uses
of things. If you’re making something more youthful, is that “youthinizing” them?
It’s not the normal usage of the word. But, you know, I wanted to make it the company
slogan, but I got talked out of it, you know, our goal is to “youthinize” people.
[ Laughter ] But we can — just like what happens with
stem cells, you can reprogram your DNA to be in a more youthful state. It’s been one
of the consequences of the early bone marrow transplants. Bob Hariri, cofounder of Human
Longevity, has actually found that looking back at these patients after — the ones that
survived the stem cell transplants actually had a much more youthful state because their
DNA got sort of reprogrammed to this earlier version.
So there is hope for trying to eliminate disease as we know it. Or at least postponing it,
and to improve the human condition through the ultimate use of this knowledge that we’ve
all been working for.>>Rebecca Jarvis: So what does the future
look like, 20, 100 years from now?>>J. Craig Venter: I used to get asked this
question, so 300 years from now, you’re looking back. And I said, well, I hope I’m still there
to answer the question. But that is really not the goal. I think if
we can turn medicine into an information-driven science, we will basically, in the process,
turn humanity into an information-driven species where we’re working from knowledge, not from
millennia of myth and the strange things that happen in our societies.
>>Rebecca Jarvis: J. Craig Venter, thank you.>>J. Craig Venter: Thank you.
[ Applause ]