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have the ability to peer into our DNA for the first time in history.
That means we can program the entire blueprint of life from beginning
to end," he says. "Do you realize the implications of that? That
means we can alter it! The ultimate end game of all of this is the
control of our biological destiny. And that means it's going to
affect how we think about ourselves and our culture."
the conviction with which he speaks about the human impact of "the
age of DNA," it's somewhat curious that Bob Goldberg studies plants.
As an undergrad at Ohio University in the mid-1960s, he double-majored
in political science and botany. Although he flirted with the idea
of becoming a constitutional scholar, the law never really had a
chance. "My friends were all premed or prelaw, and I was off in
the woods making leaf collections," Goldberg quips. "They thought
I was nuts."
Goldberg was drawn to the study of plant genetics at a time when
only a handful of researchers shared his interest, and no one -
including Goldberg - could foresee the enormous benefit that might
come from such knowledge.
wasn't one human being, including the most avant-garde science writers,
who thought about genetic engineering at that time," he says. "We
had no idea what the applications of our discoveries might be; it
was just knowledge for knowledge's sake. It's like, why does someone
open a book and enjoy the poems of e.e. cummings? It just struck
me as fascinating."
is often the case in basic science, the knowledge Goldberg gained
by mining the plant genome to learn about its biological processes
harbored unforeseen rewards. Goldberg has always been interested
in learning about the DNA "switches" that activate and deactivate
plant genes during development. More than a decade ago he discovered
a set of tobacco genes that simultaneously switch on only during
development of the plant's male sex organs. The cells that these
genes activated were those related to the production of pollen,
which contains the plants' sperm cells. When Goldberg presented
the discovery at a conference in Ghent, Belgium, a representative
of the agricultural biotechnology company Plant Genetic Systems
took more than a passing interest.