Synthetic biology, with its goal of reengineering cells as industrial machines, is the epitome of ambition. But even in a field of risk-takers, Harvard University's George Church stands out. And Church's scientific risk-taking has paid off. He is one of four scientists sharing a $20 million grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health to develop efficient ways to change the genetic makeup of stem cells as a way of treating disease. Church has also helped to create or guide more than two dozen start-up companies and generated 34 biotechnology patents himself. But whether Church can pull off his most ambitious experiment—reinventing the genetic code—is another question. If he succeeds, biotechnology will have a new workhorse cell. And the planet will have a novel life form.
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