Carbon is abundant, versatile, and the chemical foundation of all living creatures. Moreover, new forms of carbon are speeding advances in materials science, nanotechnology, and computing, with paradigm-busting ramifications. It is even poised to become the first truly global currency as industries transition away from carbon emitting processes to carbon-capturing ones in the expanding effort to stabilize our climate. And that’s just the beginning. Living creatures aren’t only made of carbon: they are versatile and efficient carbon processors. The ease by which life can be programmed to do our bidding opens the door to new, altered carbon forms no longer bounded by the need simply to survive long enough to replicate and pass on genes. The days of natural selection, then, are drawing to a close, to be replaced by an evolution Darwin never saw coming, one directed, for better or worse, by human enterprise, creative expression, or folly.
Andrew Hessel is an outspoken advocate and champion of DNA technologies, catalyzing new project developments, investment, and relationships in synthetic biology and bioengineering. His overarching message is that biology is poised to become the IT industry of the 21st century, fueled by a new generation of young researchers and entrepreneurs armed with technologies like DNA sequencing and synthesis that are becoming exponentially more powerful yet increasingly inexpensive. The possible applications are virtually limitless and include the typical global challenges (sustainable fuel production, environmental remediation, and better diagnosis treatment of human disease) but also extend into new, uncharted scientific territories. His popular lectures at the Singularity University and his visioning work reinforce that the foundations for this new industry are already in place, that it will grow explosively once the first few killer applications find commercial success, and that it will change the world, and humanity itself, in profound yet perhaps evolutionary necessary ways.