From an environmentalist who wants to revive extinct species to a software company seeking to design molecules, Marin County is well represented at this week's TED Conference, the annual gathering of elites from the technology industry and creative fields.
Founded in 1984, the conference -- the acronym stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design -- features 50 speakers from a wide range of fields. Admission to the weeklong event costs a hefty $7,500, but videos of the talks have become a phenomenon online, where they have been streamed hundreds of millions of times.
In a talk Wednesday at the conference in Long Beach, futurist and environmentalist Stewart Brand of Sausalito proposed something previously associated more with the fiction of "Jurassic Park" than with reality -- using DNA to bring extinct species back to life.
"Biotechnology is about to liberate conservation, at least a part of conservation, in a pretty spectacular way," he said.
Brand, known for his creation of the Whole Earth Catalog in the 1960s among other projects, said research is underway that could make so-called "de-extinction" possible. The process could help restore habitats that have been destroyed and teach scientists how to prevent more endangered species from becoming extinct, he said.
Describing himself as a "cheerleader" who is encouraging researchers, Brand said scientists are working on a way to use DNA to re-create the passenger pigeon, a bird that became extinct in 1914.
"The result won't be perfect, but it should be perfect enough because nature doesn't do perfect either," he said.
Reviving other species such as the woolly mammoth may one day be possible, he said.
Addressing people who would likely be concerned about interfering with nature, Brand said humans are responsible for much of the extinction that has occurred.
"Humans have made a huge hole in nature in the last 10,000 years," he said. "We have the ability now, and maybe the moral obligation, to repair some of the damage."
Also represented at the conference was Autodesk Inc., the San Rafael-based design software company. The company, which is a conference sponsor, unveiled a new logo and brand emphasizing an expansion beyond its traditional industries such as architecture and engineering into areas such as biotechnology and nanotechnology.
Researcher Skylar Tibbits of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who collaborates with Autodesk, spoke Tuesday about designing self-assembling objects. University of Oregon ecologist Jessica Green is scheduled to speak later about design on a tiny scale.
Both speakers are working with a new Autodesk team focused on applying design concepts such as computer simulation to biotechnology and molecular science, said team leader Carlos Olguin.