J. Craig Venter on Sharing Sequence Data
  J. Craig Venter     Biography    
Recorded: 02 Mar 2006

In every field of science, every field, scientists publish their data. When they finished it, they analyze it and they put it up. That’s what we did. They put up this artificial ghost of—their funders didn‘t trust them. So they said they had to put their data out every night. It was very unscientific, putting out raw data. In fact, all the pharmaceutical companies just downloaded the data every night and filed patents on the genes. It moved forward patenting in the pharmaceutical industry by orders of magnitude. But it wasn’t scientific; it was political. Scientists everywhere, you know, find somebody who does raw data generation, dumps it on the internet, and then analyzes it and publishes a paper. It doesn’t happen that way. So it was an artificial situation. When we published our paper in Science, we made all the data available. When we published the Drosophila genome, we made it all available; that actually went into Genbank.

The internet has changed all the models, you know. Genbank is becoming more and more an archaic model. We just got a twenty five million dollar grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore foundation to work with UCSD and Calit2 to create a whole new database for all the environmental data that has not just sequence data, but all the data, the site, the satellite photos, everything going together to integrate science. GenBank is based on an early ‘70s model of—we have to have a repository just for sequence data. And at the time it was totally right. So the question is, is data available? Is it publicly available? Not, does this one government group have a monopoly on who distributes it?

The internet makes everything free and open. We made it free and open on the internet. So Celera’s business model in fact was to create an added value database where we provided the third largest computer in the world. We provided all new tools for interpreting the human genome In fact; the irony at the time was, we knew if we just gave the sequence away, nobody could interpret it. Nobody had big enough computers. They didn’t know how to look at it. So we never sold data. We sold a database with tools that gave people a faster way to look at the genome and every major university, basically, in the world signed up for this, including the NIH, including all the major genome centers, including Francis Collin’s own institute. So it was a very valuable—you know, we could compare the human and mouse genome.

More people signed up after we put the data in the public domain than after. So a lot of things were said because there was a group competing with us that had no, you know, honesty or integrity behind it. It was just people in a competition, you know, who like to win no matter what. I think some of the principles of science really got missed out on. I think in retrospective analysis, I think, it will become clear that that is an issue.

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.