College of Arts and Sciences

Steven A. Benner: Distinguished Lecturer

Steven Benner"Synthesizing Life"

Steven A. Benner
Distinguished Fellow in the Westheimer Institute at the Foundation
for Applied Molecular Evolution

Friday, November 1, 2013
4:00 pm, Walb International Ballroom
Lecture will be followed by reception with cash bar

Synthetic biologists, in their more “chemical” activities, seek to create molecules that reproduce the more complicated behaviors of living systems, including replication, adaptation, and evolution. The ultimate goal is to create, from the bottom up, “synthetic life,” a grand challenge that cannot help but teach us about the intimate connection between chemical reactivity and the living state. This talk will present our most recent results creating artificial genetic systems, where organic chemistry has delivered non-standard DNA-like molecules that support replication, adaptation, and evolution.


Steven Benner is a Distinguished Fellow in The Westheimer Institute at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, which he founded after serving on the faculty at Harvard, the ETH Zurich, and the University of Florida. His research seeks to combine two traditions in science, one from natural history and the other from the physical sciences. In making this combination, the Benner laboratory has been instrumental in the initiation and development of many fields, including synthetic biology, paleogenetics, evolutionary bioinformatics, planetary biology, and astrobiology. His laboratory was the first to redesign DNA to expand the genetic alphabet, resurrect genes and proteins from extinct organisms, organize whole genome databases according to their evolutionary history, and successfully predict how proteins fold. In addition to reshaping our view of what life is and how it is intimately connected with its underlying chemistry, his work has had impact on commerce and the public. Dr. Benner has helped launch several biotechnology companies and led to products that personalize the care of 400,000 patients each year suffering from with HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C infections. His work also guides NASA missions seeking alien life. His most recent book is entitled Life, the Universe, and the Scientific Method.

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