J. Craig Venter on Challenges
  J. Craig Venter     Biography    
Recorded: 02 Mar 2006

Well, there’s no reason to respond to all the things history has proven to be correct. It was, you know, a small very vocal minority, I think, of people in the genome project that were hoping to get lots of funding felt it threatened maybe their funding. In fact, some of the people in the genome project even tried to talk me out of publishing the paper on it. But things that are new—you know it’s one of those ideas that when you look at it, it was very simple. I think you can get elegance out of simplicity; people thought they could have thought of that.

The method was not controversial. I mean, other than a few people in the genome project worrying about funding and other people worrying about getting scooped when they spent ten years to get a gene and I could do it in one day. You know, they felt there was intense competition. But the technique itself was never controversial. What was controversial was when the U.S. government decided to file a patent on the data that it was generating and that’s what created lots of controversy. They used my people as a tool to attack the method when they felt threatened.

But it was a handful of people. It was not the scientific community. I think that’s what gets confused all the time, is a few people that were trying to get big budgets were talking to the press. You know, they made lots of noise. You know, the scientific community immediately embraced this technique and began using it. Chris Summerville was one of the first and made major breakthroughs in plant genomics. I said that it’s continued to grow; every year it continues to grow.

You know, various people said various things at the time. I don’t think it’s really relevant now. I mean, I think some people get very threatened by new ideas and new approaches. That’s human nature. Scientists are very human and some of the scientists got very threatened. It’s been more than proven to be not only valuable, but essential. Neither of the human genome efforts, the Celera one or the publicly funded one would have been able to annotate the genome without EST. So it was just a quiet revolution that some of the people that were making all the noise never apologized or, you know, said they changed their mind. They just started using it, which is a true definition of a revolution. People just accepted it and started moving forward.

J. Craig Venter, biologist and genomic research pioneer, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1946. Following military service in Vietnam, he studied biochemistry as an undergraduate at the University of California, San Diego, where he also received a Ph.D. in Physiology and Pharmacology in 1975. He joined the faculty of the Medical School of State University of New York at Buffalo in 1976, joining its affiliated Roswell Park Cancer Institute in 1982 as Professor and Associate Chief Cancer Research Scientist. Beginning in 1982, and for the next decade, Dr. Venter headed various sections of NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

In 1992 he founded The Institute for Genomic Research (known as TIGR,) where he and colleagues became the first to successfully sequence the genome of an entire organism. Dr. Venter's Celera Genomics, founded in 1998, used a strategy known as the whole genome shotgun approach to compete with the publicly-funded Human Genome Project, which served to accelerate the mapping of the whole human genome by 2000. Dr. Venter's current venture, the J. Craig Venter Institute, was formed in 2006, from the merger of several predecessor enterprises. A leader in genomic research, the J. Craig Venter Institute announced in January 2008, the largest synthetically derived DNA structure, advancing it towards its goal of creating a living cell based on an entirely synthetic genome. In September 2007, the J. Craig Venter Institute announced the sequencing of Dr. Venter's genome, the first sequencing of an individual's genome.

Among Dr. Venter's numerous awards and honors are the American Academy of Microbiology Fellow (1997), the American Chemical Society, Division of Biochemical Technology David Perlman Memorial Lectureship Award (2000), and the U.S. State Department, Secretary's Open Forum Public Service Award (2001). Dr. Venter is a member of the American Society of Human Genetics, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society of Microbiology, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.