Science Literacy

George Church is a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and a professor of health sciences and technology at Harvard and MIT. In 1984, Church, along with Walter Gilbert, developed the first direct genomic sequencing method and helped initiate the Human Genome Project. Church is responsible for inventing the concepts of molecular multiplexing and tags, homologous recombination methods, and DNA array synthesizers. Church initiated the Personal Genome Project in 2005 as well as research into synthetic biology. He is director of the U.S. Department of Energy Center on Bioenergy at Harvard and MIT and director of the National Institutes of Health Center of Excellence in Genomic Science at Harvard, MIT and Washington University. He is a senior editor for Nature EMBO Molecular Systems Biology.

  • Transcript


My group, were integrators, and interdisciplinary, and I’d like to see . . . We often integrate the analytic and the synthetic side. I’d like to make those tools of sequencing and synthesis of DNA something that’s broadly integrated. So if you get a personal genome, you should be able to get personal cell lines, stem cell derived from your adult tissues, that allow you to bring together synthetic biology and the sequencing so that you can repair parts of your body as you age, or repair things that were inherited disorders. I think that’s . . . Actually those are both going very quickly as if often happens in the exponential field. I’d like to see integration of better software – the computing aspect of this behind everything – so that the average person can actually connect to the science. We went from a world where almost nobody knew anything about computers to a world where almost all of us are computer geeks for a huge fraction of our day. And I’d like to see that happen with the digital world of biological molecules, too. I’d like to see better education, and I think this is one of the ways to get politicians and regular folks excited about sciences. Most people are excited about themselves. Personal genome will deliver for inexpensively something about science to which you can relate. Just like computers are becoming something to which you can relate. It should be even easier to relate to your own biology, and I hope that will be one of the ways we get broader literacy in science.

I think education is a barrier. If people don’t understand what genetics is about, they are not going to adopt it. If they don’t adopt it, then there won’t be funding – both whether commercial or governmental – to expand it. If it doesn’t expand, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy that well, it wasn’t important because it didn’t expand and we didn’t get it. So I think there’s many technological hurdles. Many, as we said before, opportunities for innovation and so forth; but they have to connect to society. In my lab we are constantly asking, “What’s the utility of this pure science that we’re doing? Let’s nudge it a little bit in a direction where people can connect to it and have some fun, and/or help some very serious problems they have.” Recorded on: 7/6/07