Ars on your lunch break: the ins and outs of genomics, 30 minutes at a time

Today we’re launching something of an experiment, connecting a podcast to the written pages here at Ars. For at least a few weeks, we’ll be running episodes of my tech- and science-heavy podcast in installments near the typical US lunch hour. To keep lunch from going long, we’ve got the episodes chopped up into 30-ish minute segments.

Opening installments will go up on Tuesdays, then we’ll keep posting daily until the episode is complete (typically two to four days). If you prefer to read rather than listen, we’ve got transcripts available.

Your host will be me, Rob Reid—a long-time entrepreneur who now podcasts and writes science fiction. The name of both my podcast and my most recent novel is . The podcast consists of deep-dive interviews with world-class thinkers, founders, and scientists. My guests have included Rodney Brooks, the father of the Roomba and countless other robots; UCSF neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, whose clinical video games fight ADHD and dementia and have been featured on the cover of ; and the ever-controversial Sam Harris, going deep into his personal history and opining up about terrorism.

I talk about my podcast’s approach in the introduction to today’s segment, and I won’t repeat myself here. Instead I’ll give you a quick preview of today’s installment: it features the legendary bioengineer and genomicist George Church, whose Harvard lab is one of the most celebrated fonts of innovation in the world of life science. As I say in the podcast, George was one of the earliest drivers behind the Human Genome Project. He’s also one of the most prominent co-inventors of the gene editing technology known as CRISPR, and he has co-founded 22 life-science companies (yes, really).

On this week’s episode…

I first posted the full episode to my podcast’s feed on April 3, and we’ll run it in three installments here on Ars. In today’s installment, George talks about his disappointment with the Human Genome Project, which he believes suffered from a dismaying lack of audacity. He argues that his field’s true golden age began right after the Genome Project ended and is now building extraordinary momentum. We discuss the blistering price/performance improvements in both DNA synthesis and sequencing, which are running at speeds that make Moore’s Law look pokey. And for those who are new to this field, we arm you with highly accessible definitions of its four major domains (sequencing, DNA synthesis, DNA editing, and assembly).

The consequence of exponential improvement is a theme throughout the episode, and in today’s installment we discuss how it’s unfolding in sequencing (which is a fancy way of saying “reading DNA”). What might ensue if we build a Waze-like network of pathogen detectors, piggybacking on our smartphones (this could happen much sooner than you’d imagine)? Finally, we talk about CRISPR. Though amazing, it’s just the tenth major editing technique in a lineage that stretches clear back to the ’80s and will soon be usurped by more powerful approaches. George discusses CRISPR’s strengths and weaknesses and the improvements he hopes to see in its successors.

We hope you enjoy this experiment and this week’s conversation with George Church—parts two and three will run on Wednesday and Thursday. If you like my work, you can access my full archive of almost thirty episodes on my website or by typing “After On” into your favorite podcasting app.

This special edition of the Ars Technicast podcast can be accessed in the following places:





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