Hamilton Smith on Appreciating Craig Venter
  Hamilton Smith     Biography    
Recorded: 03 Mar 2006

Well, I have to tell you that most of my academic friends thought I was throwing in with the devil. That it was a bad mistake, it would ruin my reputation, and so on. I mean, they weren’t—they didn’t say that to my face, but it was obvious. There were a lot of, I guess, stories about how he had acted badly, here and there. I think that—well, I think Watson and Marshall Nirenberg, and other very eminent Nobelists at NIH thought that this was not real science – that it’s just, you know, you just beat a bunch of machines and a monkey could do it.

Famous quote, yeah. And that the data wouldn’t really be worth anything. That you’re just tagging stuff, you’re not getting complete sequences. But if pursued to the full extent, you could get—what they didn’t realize was you could get full sequences. And furthermore the information was incredibly valuable later on. It gave you a spectrum of the genes that are present in the human much quicker than we were going to get it – it would have been 2005 probably. I thought it was pretty good. I didn’t give a hang what people thought about Craig; I always make up my own mind, so I liked him a lot. Incredibly generous guy, a lot of fun. He gets money. We can do things we could never do in academia. That’s why I left Hopkins – because he enables us to do large-scale things that we couldn’t do otherwise.Gerry Rubin was also, I think, among the academic community that had to interact with Craig. He was one of the few people that appreciated Craig. He and Craig made a deal on Drosophila that turned out to be good for everybody. With the human genome there were too many big people, big egos out there that were fighting for the ultimate, you know what I mean?

Hamilton Smith is a U.S. microbiologist born Aug. 23, 1931, New York, N.Y. Smith received an A.B. degree in mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley in 1952 and the M.D. degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1956. After six years of clinical work in medicine (1956-1962), he carried out research on Salmonella phage P22 lysogeny at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (1962-1967). In 1967, he joined the Microbiology Department at Johns Hopkins.

In 1968, he discovered the first TypeII restriction enzyme (HindII) and determined the sequence of its cleavage site. In, 1978 he was a co-recipient (with D. Nathans and W. Arber) of the Nobel in Medicine for this discovery.

He is currently the Scientific Director Synthetic Biology and Bioenergy Distinguished Professor at the J. Craig Venture Institute in Rockville, Maryland.