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Fall 2004
Fear Factor
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Gregory Stocker

"People often tell me they don't think it's a good idea to extend the human life span. Then they sometimes whisper, 'but put me on the list.'"
—Gregory Stock

by Gregory Stock
Portrait by David Ferdigi

MANY OF THE PUBLIC FIGURES working to shape America’s science policy are troubled by recent advances in biotechnology. They are not alone; their angst is shared even by some of the scientists who are at the vanguard of this research. As we push further into uncharted territory by deciphering and laying bare the workings of life, it’s worth asking just what is it that so worries us.

Four years ago, the announcement of the rough sequence of the human genome provoked widespread commentary about finding the “Holy Grail of Biology,” reading the “Book of Life,” and breaking the “Code of Codes.” This unalloyed enthusiasm, coupled with projections of rapid progress in biomedicine, created soaring biotech valuations until investors realized how long and arduous the path might be from identifying gene targets to identifying therapeutics and moving them into the clinic.

Today, two unprecedented revolutions are under way. The first is the silicon revolution: telecommunications, computers, artificial intelligence, and the related technology that is ever more shaping our lives. The second revolution, a child of the first, is the one in molecular biology. Science has slammed evolution into “fast forward,” and no one can say where the process will ultimately carry us.

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