My new book, Programmable Planet: The Synthetic Biology Revolution, tells the story of science that is reengineering the fabric of life. Synthetic biology offers bold new ways of manufacturing medicines, clothing, foods, fragrances, and fuels, often using microbe fermentation, much like brewing beer. The technology can help confront climate change, break down industrial pollutants, and fight novel viruses. Today, researchers are manipulating life forms and automating evolution to create vegetarian “meat,” renewable construction materials, and cancer treatments. In the process, they are changing our concept of what life science can achieve.
Programmable Planet is a grand tour through the world of synthetic biology, telling the stories of the colorful visionaries whose ideas are shaping discoveries. I explore the field from its beginning in fighting malaria in Africa to the COVID vaccines and beyond. Covering medical and agricultural triumphs and blunders, I examine successes in energy production, plant gene editing, and chemical manufacturing, as well as the most controversial attempts at human gene enhancement. This book reports from the front lines of research, showing policy makers’ struggle to stay abreast of the technologies they aim to regulate. Even-handed, lively, and informative, Programmable Planet gives a glimpse of the promise and problems of a new biology-based industry.
Here is a recent radio interview I did on the book:
My previous book was Planet of Microbes (University of Chicago Press, 2017)
Here's a nice video on it from WTTW's Chicago Tonight:
"Anton's captivating narrative follows the field's evolution through key findings in symbiosis, archaea and the microbiome..." Barbara Kiser, Nature
"...masterfully depicts the tug of war between Darwinian forces... and symbiosis... and ultimately the ubiquity of microbes. Mind-boggling." Booklist
"Anton shines in his detailing of research that has revealed the reach and weight of microbes and the chemistry and geology of ancient Earth." Kirkus Reviews
"... a fascinating journey through one of our least visible and most influential landscapes." Deborah Blum, The Poisoner's Handbook
"...a romping tour of microbial research, from astrobiology to zoology (that) leaves us wth a new respect for these tiny creatures." Brooke Borel, Author of Infested: How the Bed Bug Took Over Our Bedrooms and Infiltrated the World
April 3, 2019. 7:00-8:30 pm, Comedy Improv,
DePaul University Student Center
Jan. 18, 2018. 7 pm, Brazos Bookstore, Houston TX
Feb. 27, 2018 6 pm, Homewood-Flossmoor Science Pub, IL
May 8, 2018. 7 pm, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, CO
A Carl Sandburg Award-Winner in Nonfiction and a Nominee for a National Magazine Award in Reporting, I am a professor in English at Chicago's DePaul University. I have written for Slate, Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Chicago and other publications. My book, The Longevity Seekers (University of Chicago Press, 2013), took readers inside a tale that began with worms and branched out to snare minds from California to Crete, investments from big biotech, and endorsements from TV personalities like Oprah and Dr. Oz.
"Anton reveals a young field already rife with larger-than-life personalities and lab drama aplenty," Barbara Kiser, Nature.
"A must-read. The characters are fascinating. And the stories behind the breakthroughs that have already occurred are gripping enough to compete with a mystery novel. Any one of the scientists profiled by Anton is likely to change the course of history." S. Jay Olshanksy, Health Affairs
"Anton vividly recounts the excitement in the various labs... and the intensity of the scientists' search," Bee Wilson, Harper's
"A valuable, engaging addition to the literature on longevity. . . . Anton is well equipped for the task of translating complicated scientific matters into accessible language. . . [His] polished prose almost qualifies The Longevity Seekers for The New Yorker or a good detective yarn; understated are his extensive research forays, the double-checking of facts. and the erudition that undergirds the book.” W. A. Achenbaum, Global Public Health
The Longevity Seekers was named a finalist in nonfiction for the 2014 Book Awards from the Society of Midland Authors. Here is a link to The Longevity Seekers lecture: