Sunday, May 23, 2010

Craig Venter: Cautionary Tale One

Chemistry still struck particular fear in my heart. The subject was crucial for a career in medicine, and yet high school had left me allergic even to the thought of grappling with the world of atoms and molecules.

Craig Venter almost ended his life by swimming out to sea off the coast of Viet Nam. He was a medic during the Tet offensive, when the Viet Cong and the NVA pushed over 80,000 soldiers south. He lost many lives, and chose to end his own.

A shark circling around him, like Jonah's great fish,changed his mind and he swam through miles of dark water back to the bloody shores of Nam.

Three decades later he would be instrumental in developing the human genome. This week Science announced that Venter has successfully placed an artificially made DNA molecule into an organism, and it replicated. If DNA is the soul of life, Venter is now God.

While I am a Luddite who fears powerful folks sashaying with hubris, I cannot help but wonder:
Which came closer to preventing Dr. Venter from venturing this far?

A near suicidal act to wash away the blood of hundreds of men he could not save? Or was it a high school science class that nearly killed an innate love of untangling the unknown?


John Spencer said...

Love it.

I lost my love of science in school. I regained it as a parent.

doyle said...

Dear John,

I suspect most who think they've lost their love of science really mean they no longer accept the pablum served at school as real science. Anyone reading your posts knows you are curious and seek to understand the world, the two best tools any scientist could use.

Kelly said...

Why are we shown the apple, the fruit, and we continue to reach for it, though we are told not to. In a petri dish or atom smasher, we save and kill ourselves at every moment. We disobey, affront the knowledge, and attempt to take control.

What if that shark hadn't just eaten that day? Is it a blessing or curse?

doyle said...

Dear Kelly,

Great question--not sure of the answer.

But then, I'm not sure of most things.

I am sure of bees and apple blossoms, though....

Kelly said...

Me neither. But I do know my younger son just explained to me how straws work.

I am blessed.