Tag Archives: craig venter

Craig Venter Decided to Beat Calico in the Race towards Human Life Extension

craig venter life extensionWe all know how competitive Craig Venter is. Last time he won in the race against the Human Genome Project participants, and now he is up against Google’s Calico. Together with Peter Diamandis and Robert Hariri he co-founded Human Longevity, a company that aims to scan the DNA of as many as 100,000 people a year to create a massive database that will lead to new tests and therapies to help extend healthy human life spans.

Human Longevity has an agreement with the University of California at San Diego to perform genome sequencing of patients at the Moores Cancer Centre. In addition to providing DNA data to doctors at the university, the goal is to make individual genome data directly available to patients once the company meets US regulatory standards for providing clinical-level information. In addition to genome and microbiome data, the company will collect data on biochemicals and lipids circulating throughout patients’ bodies.

This sounds like a plan. The thing that Calico hasn’t got yet. Or at least hasn’t announced yet. I believe in Dr. Venter and I like his plan – gathering as much information about a person’s biological data and applying it to cure age-related diseases is a great goal. They are not saying anything about aging per se, but I’m pretty sure the data will speak for itself and at some point of time the researchers will realize they are dealing with different mechanisms of aging. So yay! for a very particular, very solid step towards defeating aging.

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There Can Be No Healthy Aging

craig-venter3

This is Craig Venter. His institute has received 1.25 million dollars from the Ruggles Family Foundation to study the biomarkers of healthy aging.

The study, conducted by a team of scientists and clinicians from JCVI and WCHN, will focus on two groups of elderly individuals aged 65 to 85 years by correlating genetics with a variety of human genomic, gut microbiome and other “omics” profiles and integrating these data with the individuals’ health record. One group will consist of healthy individuals, and the other will have individuals with a variety of diagnosed health conditions.

This study makes no sense to me, because they want to look at the differences in health between sick people and even sicker people and call the results of the study markers of healthy aging. They propose to measure the right things, but what the study planners are missing here is the fact that aging itself is a disease. Aging can’t be healthy, because the underlying biological mechanisms that are causing age-related pathologies are active also in those aged individuals, who don’t have those diseases. To give you an example – manifestation of type 2 diabetes means that the cells lost their sensitivity to insulin, however really a lot of older people, who don’t have type 2 diabetes, have impaired insulin sensitivity. These people are considered to be just old, but not sick. That’s exactly what’s wrong with perception of aging. Everyone who reached a certain age is considered to be simply old, but not ill. However this person is 100% not healthy in a biological sense, because a lot of detrimental processes have already started their poisonous actions and altered the youthful state of the organism.

In order to find the biomarkers of aging the study design should be different. The control for an individual should be the very same individual. Let me explain. We are very different in the biological sense from each other. So, to draw conclusions about a person’s aging processes, based on a given set of parameters, we have to measure those parameters several times in the beginning of the experiment to identify the baseline for the person. Then by measuring those parameters in the long run we will be able to see the changes in levels and make conclusions regarding the underlying mechanisms of aging. Also that would be the way to judge the efficacy of interventions like caloric restriction and melatonin, or rapamycin, or other drugs. Of course, the exact study design description would be more complicated, I am just pointing out the main things here. But again, the idea is not to distinguish sick people from sick people with diagnosed diseases, the idea is to identify how the sickness, i.e. aging, can be characterized.

Here’s what important – we need to change the perception of aging, so there would be no confusing terms like “healthy aging”, which is an oxymoron. It’s like “dignified poverty”, or “merciful tyrant”. Aging is not and can not be healthy. Aging is itself a disease. It is also the cause of many other maladies like Alzheimer’s and stroke, and many others. We have to stop using the term healthy aging, because it is already making us conduct poorly designed research experiments.

 

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The First Geneticists Enters the Race to Sequence 100 Genomes of 100 Centenarians for Less than $1,000 Each

This is Dr. Johnathan Rothberg of Life Technologies who is the first researcher to oficciall register for participation in the Archon Genomics X Prize. The Archon Genomics Prize is an award given by the X Prize Foundation for the first man to sequence 100 whole genomes of centenarians in less than 30 day for $1,000 or less. BBS reports that Dr. Rothberg believes this may be a good start towards finding the “fountains of youth”.

I found it very interesting that Dr. Craig Venter is the originator of the prize. This may be an indication that he is pro-longevity in mind. We’ve already known that he is one of the greatest biologists, but this may serve as an indication that he is in favor of life extention technologies. It would be really great if he worked in this area himself, because ssynthetic biology holds a lot of promise for advancing the longevity technologies. Just imagine a bacteria that lives together with the cells and adds the “good” longevity proteins and suppresses the production of the “bad” aging ones. There’s a chance we can make the cells live longer. Of course, gene regulation is extremely complicated, but one can always start with a simple model and see if it works.

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Synthetic Biology and its Promise

Synthetic Biology is going to be huge all over the world very soon. No wonder, the promise is incredible. According to Jeurgen Pleiss, possible applications of synthetic biology include:

1. Genetic circuits. The BioBrick project initiated at MIT seeks to assemble a set of standardized DNA parts that encode basic biological functions. The “Registry of Standard Biological Parts” includes genes for transcription factors and enzymes, promoter and enhancer elements, ribosome binding sites, and terminators. This registry describes the sequence of the individual bricks, a quantitative description of their input–output properties, and a concept of how to connect them, the “biowiring”. Each element can be considered as a logical circuit, an inverter, or a NAND or a NOR gate. By combining logical gates and by wiring them using orthogonal, highly specific gene products, artificial genetic circuits have been constructed with predetermined behavior. Projects at the international Genetically Engineering Machine (iGEM) competition are examples of genetic circuits.

2. Protein design. The ultimate goal is the complete de novo design of proteins. The methods are based on design tools that evaluate the compatibility of a protein sequence with a given structure. The vision of protein design is a modular approach to the design of new biomaterials with desired properties. Although all protein design efforts use the 20 amino acids as basic parts, de novo design is not limited to naturally occurring amino acids. By using expression platforms with expanded genetic code, single unnatural amino acids can be incorporated by in vivo or in vitro protein biosynthesis. Thus, the synthetic potential is considerably enhanced. However, the primary goal of protein design is not to compete with natural structural diversity. In line with the premises of synthetic biology, it would be desirable to identify a minimal set of robust and versatile scaffolds. In a modular design strategy, these basic parts would then be combined into more complex devices which are then modified to function as enzyme, power generator, signaling device, mechanical motor, or structural protein. The major application would be cheap and effective drugs.

3. Platform technologies. Like synthetic bacteriophages with optimized genome organization. The synthetic gene circuits and the production of designed proteins are implemented into living cells, thus allowing applications in biotransformation and biosensing. The ideal cellular platform should be of minimal complexity. Minimization of genomes is expected to simplify the cellular platform.

4. Engineering of pathways.  Signaling pathways are characterized by the modular architecture of the proteins involved in signal transduction. Kinetics and thermodynamics of intermodular recognition are crucial to specificity and information flow. Production of natural products by synthetic gene clusters is considered as a promising application for synthetic biology.

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