• Contents
  • Key Takeaways
  • Source
  • Full Notes
  • Support the Podcast
3 Min Read
Last Updated: 30.05.23

George Church, PhD: Rewriting Genomes to Eradicate Disease and Aging

George Church, Ph.D., is a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and holds positions in health sciences and technology at both Harvard and MIT. His significant contributions to the Human Genome Project and expertise in gene editing technology and synthetic biology have established him as a preeminent scientist in these fields.

Key Takeaways

Dr. George Church: key figure in the Human Genome Project

  • Pioneered method of direct DNA sequencing in 1984
  • Contributed to exponential shifts in understanding, feasibility, and capability in biology

Human Genome Project: $3 billion moonshot to sequence a single reference genome for humans

  • Sequencing now over 10 million times cheaper
  • Most people can get their genome sequenced inexpensively

Genome comparisons can lead to new tool discovery

  • Positive feedback loop: sequence genomes, find tools, use tools to read/​​write genomes, find more tools

Unique aspects of biology:

  • Ability to replicate (e.g., a cell phone cannot make a copy of itself)
  • Hybrid systems using biological and electronic inspiration could lead to new innovations
  • Current human genome is a rough draft, not a full instruction book 
    • Writing the genome can provide insights into its function and structure
    • Can lead to new discoveries and applications in medicine and other fields

Project to change the genetic code to make cells resistant to all viruses

  • Changing the code without hurting the host can make the host resistant to viruses
  • This method has been tested in E. Coli and could potentially be applied to plants, animals, and humans

De-​​extinction involves making changes to bring back certain traits or physiology of extinct species

  • This process may require many changes throughout the genome, making it more like a complete rewrite than simple editing

Vertebrate Genomes Project

  • Aims to sequence the whole biosphere, focusing on vertebrates as they often constitute keystone species in ecosystems

Machine learning can be combined with multiplex libraries to study the landscape of functionality in proteins, RNAs, and DNAs

Synthetic Biology Advancements

  • Exponential growth, sometimes faster than Moore’s Law for electronics
  • Importance of government agencies, equitable distribution, and accessibility

Most gene therapies involve adding genes, not editing

  • Delivery is crucial for effective gene therapy

Multiplex editing: ability to perform thousands or millions of edits in human cells

Gene editing pigs to enhance resistance to retroviruses

  • Potential to eliminate viral spillover events from livestock to humans
  • CRISPR used to attack viral DNA, eliminating mammalian viruses from the environment
  • Goal to make plants, animals, and humans resistant to viruses

Aging as a fundamentally programmed process

  • Aiming to treat serious diseases of aging
  • Possibility of changing the aging clock through rejuvenation processes 
    • Gametogenesis and fertilization
    • Cloning
    • Yamanaka factors (OSKM)
    • Bloodborne factors

Epigenetic school of thought on aging: convincing cells they are young so they fix themselves

Experiments with adeno-​​associated virus, fullestatin, and polymerase

  • Affects ends of chromosomes (telomeres)
  • Impacts hallmarks of aging, biomarkers of aging, and diseases of aging
  • Affects multiple diseases in mice and dogs

Advantages of using rodents in aging research

  • Short lifespan (2 years) makes it easy to see longevity effects
  • Can test multiple gene therapies before moving to larger animals and humans

Limitations of rodent models

  • Differences in treatment and environment compared to humans

Germline editing is a controversial and complex issue

  • Public understanding and acceptance may evolve over time, similar to in vitro fertilization (IVF)

Reducing the medical load from infectious diseases can have a positive impact on poverty

Gene drives can be used to eradicate insect-​​borne human diseases like malaria and Lyme disease

  • Example: making mosquitoes resistant to malaria, preventing transmission to humans

Concerns about unintentional extinction of a species

  • Limited number of mosquitoes carry malaria, so extinction risk may be acceptable
  • First priority is to try to eradicate disease without causing extinction

A Lyme disease vaccine was previously available but was pulled from the market

  • Timing coincided with the false data on vaccines causing autism
  • Lyme disease was less severe at the time

New vaccines in development target multiple tick-​​borne diseases and strains of Lyme

  • Public may be more accepting of a vaccine now, understanding the consequences of not having one
  • Lyme disease vaccine for dogs has been available and successful


  • Dr. Charles Raison on Depression, the Immune-​​Brain Interface & Whole-​​Body Hyperthermia

    Found My Fitness #77

    George Church, Ph.D., is a genetics professor at Harvard and MIT, renowned for his contributions to gene editing and synthetic biology.

Full Notes

Support the Podcast