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.
Here is a recent radio interview on the book:
"Captures the passion and energy of those at the genesis... of the genetically engineered world." Christopher Voigt, Daniel I.C. Wang Professor of Biological Engineering, MIT
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 Carl Sandburg Award-Winner in Nonfiction and a Nominee for a National Magazine Award in Reporting, I am a professor emeritus in English at Chicago's DePaul University. I have written for Slate, The Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Chicago and other publications. My book, The Longevity Seekers (University of Chicago Press, 2013), took readers inside a quest for longevity that snared investments from biotech and endorsements from TV personalities like Oprah.
"Anton vividly recounts the excitement in the various labs... and the intensity of the scientists' search," Bee Wilson, Harper's
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: