Craig Venter is one of the most controversial figures in modern science. The British team who were part of the public effort to sequence the human genome spit nails at the mention of his name – he led the private consortium that was adjudged, partly for political reasons, to have reached its goals at the same time as the public team did, though his method relied on data that others had made freely available. Yet there is no faulting his ambition or capacity for hard work. Life at the Speed of Light is an account of the attempt to engineer life from first principles after the scientific triumphs of the second half of the 20th century led to the discovery of how these first principles are encoded in DNA.
If you see life as a matter of instructions working on chemicals – and this is an entirely uncomplicated picture to Venter – then it ought to be possible to read DNA as if it were software, and to write new strings of it that contain different, even better instructions.