You may have heard the news last week: J. Craig Venter and a team of scientists created the first living organism – a “synthetic cell” – by way of a computer-generated genome. We’re now seeing the beginnings of artificial life. And it’s a big story, with many far-reaching implications. But where does James Joyce fit into this picture? Let me add this little factoid to the mix: According to The Christian Science Monitor, Venter’s team inserted DNA watermark codes into the genome so that they can distinguish between natural and synthetic bacteria moving forward. And when this code is translated into English, it will “spell out the names of the 46 researchers who helped with the project, quotations from James Joyce, physicist Richard Feynman and J. Robert Oppenheimer, and a URL that anyone who deciphers the code can e‑mail.” Lots of smarts packed into the tiniest of packages.
UPDATE: The quotes in watermark apparently read: “TO LIVE, TO ERR, TO FALL, TO TRIUMPH, TO RECREATE LIFE OUT OF LIFE.” — James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; “SEE THINGS NOT AS THEY ARE, BUT AS THEY MIGHT BE.”-A quote from an Oppenheimer biography, American Prometheus; “WHAT I CANNOT BUILD, I CANNOT UNDERSTAND.” — Richard Feynman.