George Church

time-100-2017-george-church Photograph by Ken Richardson 

George Church once stopped me from eating 20 million copies of his book Regenesis. The fact that it was possible for me to do that is a testament to his genius. He had translated all the information in the book, including pictures, into the A-T-G-C code of DNA and placed 20 million copies of it in a tiny spot on a scrap of paper. It was a powerful demonstration of both the complexity and capacity of the genome he has dedicated his life to studying.

As a biological engineer, Dr. Church has been accused of “playing God,” an accusation abetted by his beard of biblical proportions. But to me, George seems less like God and more like a cross between Darwin and Santa. Through planned evolution, using gene-editing tools like CRISPR, he offers humanity a bag of powerful potential gifts: the return of extinct species, biological synthetic fuels, data storage of unprecedented density, mapping the brain, the treatment of infectious and congenital disease, and the reversal of aging. His contribution to genetic research and the imagination he brings to its application may change the entire world and our experience of life itself.

TIME 100

time-100-2017-jeff-bezos
Jeff Bezos

So, though he grabbed my hand before I got that scrap of paper into my mouth, we may all soon have George Church’s work inside of us.

Colbert is the host of CBS’s The Late Show With Stephen Colbert

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.