Science Book a Day Interviews Adam Rutherford


Special thanks to Adam Rutherford for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – Creation: The Origin of Life / The Future of Life

Adam Rutherford is a science broadcaster and professional geek. He has a degree in evolutionary biology and a PhD in the genetics of the eye. He is an editor at Nature where he makes short films and podcasts. Adam is also a presenter on TV and radio, working on The Gene Code, The Cell, Scientists go to Hollywood and Science Betrayed. He also writes for The Guardian and enjoys cricket and cooking. – Adapted from Adam’s Homepage

Adam’s Homepage:
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#1 – What was the impetus for Creation?

My background is both evolutionary biology and genetics, and while these are intimately connected, they have diverse branches. When I proposed Creation, I felt that we had reached a point where advances in genetics and molecular biology in general had meant we were capable of seriously adddressing the question of the origin of life on Earth, and were forging many ways of profoundly altering it for our own ends. One is the most profound question we can ask of the biological sciences – how did life begin – and the other is one that will profoundly alter the trajectory of our tenure on Earth.

#2 – Your book explores synthetic biology? What is synthetic biology and why do you think it is important for our future?

Synthetic bio is a form of evolved genetic engineering, in which we are redesigning the tools that have evolved over the last 4 billion years for our use rather than for organismal survival. It’s a step beyond genetic engineering as, in many ways, has useful function, rather than scientific questions, at its heart. Almost no aspect of human life is exempt from feeling synthetic biology’s effects, from food, fuel and drug production, to medicine, pollution and even space exploration.

#3 – Who would you recommend read this book? And why?

I wrote for anyone with an interest in science, history, and the political doors that are opened when we invent new technologies that could change the world. My aim was to tell some stories that explore why and how we know what we know, and how we can find out more.

#4 – Your book is two books in one. What was your thinking behind this idea?

It was my editor’s idea, after I completed a draft which showed how connected but separate the two themes were. Both are linked by DNA, this extraordinary molecule that is universal in life on Earth, and has a particular characteristic in herent to its function, but that also renders it beautiful and iconic. The double helix is described in scientific terms as being antiparallel and complementary, meaning that the two strand runs in opposite direction to each other, but are effectively mirror images. Each half of the book is written independently, but physically inverted in the print book itself.

#5 – Are you working on any new books/projects you can tell us about?

I’m currently writing my next book, which is exploring what the human genome can and can’t tell us about the human project. In some ways it’s a history book, covering the whole duration of our species, and our future, but using our DNA as a source. On television, I’m in the middle of filming a 5-part series on another of my passions, which is the story of anatomy told through art. Right now I’m sitting in a hotel room in the Hague, as tomorrow I’ll be visiting Rembrandt’s masterpiece, the Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp. Over the century, the study of our bodies has been science, medicine, theology, politics and art. It’s quite a journey.

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