I think that Craig Venter may go down as the most important scientist of the late 20th/early 21st century. He has made breath-taking discoveries and advances in biology over the last ten years and these achievements continue to pile up. Last month, he gave a fascinating lecture to the Long Now Foundation which provides an overview of his latest science, including the discovery of incredibly staggering amounts of new species in the Earth's oceans and the first successful creation of artificial life.
His science is both exquisite and simple and its implications are jaw-dropping and cosmic. Over the last twenty years, discoveries have continued to mount regarding the tenacity and ubiquity of life on Earth. It thrives everywhere and in every extremity of condition. Scientists anticipate that they may even find life in ancient subsurface lakes in Anarctica and are currently exploring ways to obtain water samples.
Our conception of life has grown expotentially in a very short time and it appears that life will continue to surprise us with its capacity to survive. For me, we have reached a tipping point. These discoveries provide overwhelming evidence that life on Earth is likely not unique.
We now know that our solar system is far from unique, that our galaxy is likely teeming with planets, many with surprising and previously unimagined properities and configurations. We now know that our planet is teeming with life of tremendous variety, permeating in places we never before imagined.
Planets are everywhere. Life is everywhere on our planet. The numbers favor life on other planets more and more each day. The only questions that remain are when we will discover proof of this and whether we will survive in order to make this discovery.