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

When we first met in Spain, in Bilbao – we’ve told this story a lot of times – we were at a genomics ethics meeting, it was spring of 1993, and I didn’t know Venter at that time. I didn’t know for sure what he looked like, even. So, after the first—he spoke at the session that I was chairing, and I was quite impressed with his EST work, the fact that he was really discovering human genes very quickly and tagging them. Little did we know, that would be essential later on for annotation of the genome. Many people didn’t realize that at the time. But anyway, so that evening I didn’t have any particular plans, so I was sitting in the bar, eating some peanuts or something. He came in and introduced himself, sat down. We had a couple of drinks and we started talking about how we got into science. He has a very interesting story himself. Then he said, “Look, I’m going out to dinner with some friends. You want to join us?” I said, sure. So we went out to dinner and we had just a fantastic time. Of course we got drunk, and there was this attractive girl—the daughter of, the mother was right next to the girl—but anyway, she was all over Craig. And the jokes got really—you know, Craig is very good at sort of very quick one-liner, type gag jokes. Anyway, they were flying a mile a minute. We had a fantastic meal. And then when the meal ended, we came out of the hotel, and the girl rushed up to give him a kiss, and he pecked her on the cheek. And I said, “Come on Craig, give her a real kiss!” So they ended up in a mouth-locking thirty-second French kiss. And then she said, “you know I’d really love to see your institute.” And so when Craig and I were walking back alone, I said, “you’re going to see her within a few days, I can tell you.” Yeah, so on the way back to the hotel, actually, he said, “Look, I’ve got this new institute, it’s no more than—it’s less than a year old, and I’m forming a scientific advisory board, would you be willing to serve on it?” He called it a scientific council, actually. And I said I’ll certainly consider it. So, when I got back within a day or two a letter came, inviting me, naming some dollar sums and so on. He’s always been very generous. Anyway, so I hopped in the car and drove down, took a look, and went ahead and agreed to be on the council.

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.