Craig Venter

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Craig Venter
Venter in 2007
John Craig Venter

(1946-10-14) October 14, 1946 (age 75)
Alma mater University of California, San Diego
Occupation Biologist
Known for DNA
Human genome
Synthetic genomics
Shotgun approach to genome sequencing
Awards Gairdner Award (2002)
Nierenberg Prize (2007)
Kistler Prize (2008)
ENI award (2008)
Medal of Science (2008)
Dickson Prize (2011)
Leeuwenhoek Medal (2015)
Scientific career
Institutions State University of New York at Buffalo
National Institutes of Health
J. Craig Venter Institute
Website J. Craig Venter Institute

John Craig Venter (born October 14, 1946) is an American biotechnologist and businessman. He is known for leading the first draft sequence of the human genome [1] [2] and assembled the first team to transfect a cell with a synthetic chromosome. [3] [4] Venter founded Celera Genomics, the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) and the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), where he currently serves as CEO. He was the co-founder of Human Longevity Inc. and Synthetic Genomics. He was listed on Time magazine's 2007 and 2008 Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world. In 2010, the British magazine New Statesman listed Craig Venter at 14th in the list of "The World's 50 Most Influential Figures 2010". [5] In 2012, Venter was honored with Dan David Prize for his contribution to genome research. [6] He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2013. [7] He is a member of the USA Science and Engineering Festival's Advisory Board. [8]


Early life and education

Venter was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, the son of Elizabeth and John Venter. [9] [10] :14 In his youth, he did not take his education seriously, preferring to spend his time on the water in boats or surfing. [10] :1–20 According to his biography, A Life Decoded, he was said never to be a terribly engaged student, having Cs and Ds on his eighth-grade report cards. [10] :1–20 He graduated from Mills High School in Millbrae, California.

Although he opposed the Vietnam War, [11] Venter was drafted and enlisted in the United States Navy where he worked in the intensive-care ward of a field hospital. [12] While in Vietnam, he attempted suicide by swimming out to sea, but changed his mind more than a mile out. [13] Being confronted with severely injured and dying marines on a daily basis instilled in him a desire to study medicine, [14] although he later switched to biomedical research.

Venter began his college education at a community college, College of San Mateo in California, and later transferred to the University of California, San Diego, where he studied under biochemist Nathan O. Kaplan. He received a BS in biochemistry in 1972 and a PhD in physiology and pharmacology in 1975 from UCSD. [15] [16]


After working as an associate professor, and later as full professor, at the State University of New York at Buffalo, he joined the National Institutes of Health in 1984.

EST controversy

While an employee of the NIH, Venter learned how to identify mRNA and began to learn more about those expressed in the human brain. The short cDNA sequence fragments he was interested in are called expressed sequence tags, or ESTs. The NIH Office of Technology Transfer and Venter decided to take the ESTs discovered by others in an attempt to patent the genes identified based on studies of mRNA expression in the human brain. When Venter disclosed this strategy during a Congressional hearing, a firestorm of controversy erupted. [17] The NIH later stopped the effort and abandoned the patent applications it had filed, following public outcry. [18]

Human Genome Project

Venter was passionate about the power of genomics to transform healthcare radically. Venter believed that shotgun sequencing was the fastest and most effective way to get useful human genome data. [19] The method was rejected by the Human Genome Project however, since some geneticists felt it would not be accurate enough for a genome as complicated as that of humans, that it would be logistically more difficult, and that it would cost significantly more. [20] [21]

Venter viewed the slow pace of progress in the Human Genome project as an opportunity to continue his interest in patenting genes, so he sought funding from the private sector to start Celera Genomics. [22] The company planned to profit from their work by creating genomic data to which users could subscribe for a fee. The goal consequently put pressure on the public genome program and spurred several groups to redouble their efforts to produce the full sequence. Venter's effort won him renown as he and his team at Celera Corporation shared credit for sequencing the first draft human genome with the publicly funded Human Genome Project. [23]

In 2000, Venter and Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health and U.S. Public Genome Project jointly made the announcement of the mapping of the human genome, a full three years ahead of the expected end of the Public Genome Program. The announcement was made along with U.S. President Bill Clinton, and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. [24] Venter and Collins thus shared an award for "Biography of the Year" from A&E Network. [25] On 15 February 2001, the Human Genome Project consortium published the first Human Genome in the journal Nature , followed one day later by a Celera publication in Science . [26] [27] Despite some claims that shotgun sequencing was in some ways less accurate than the clone-by-clone method chosen by the Human Genome Project, [28] the technique became widely accepted by the scientific community.

Venter was fired by Celera in early 2002. [29] According to his biography, Venter was fired because of a conflict with the main investor, Tony White, specifically barring him from attending the White House ceremony celebrating the achievement of sequencing the human genome.

Global Ocean Sampling Expedition

The Global Ocean Sampling Expedition (GOS) is an ocean exploration genome project with the goal of assessing the genetic diversity in marine microbial communities and to understand their role in nature's fundamental processes. Begun as a Sargasso Sea pilot sampling project in August 2003, Venter announced the full Expedition on 4 March 2004. The project, which used Venter's personal yacht, Sorcerer II, started in Halifax, Canada, circumnavigated the globe and returned to the U.S. in January 2006. [30]

Synthetic Genomics

J. Craig Venter Institute, Rockville, Maryland, location J. Craig Vernter Institute Rockville Maryland.jpg
J. Craig Venter Institute, Rockville, Maryland, location

In June 2005, Venter co-founded Synthetic Genomics, a firm dedicated to using modified microorganisms to produce clean fuels and biochemicals. In July 2009, ExxonMobil announced a $600 million collaboration with Synthetic Genomics to research and develop next-generation biofuels. [31] Venter continues to work on the creation of engineered diatomic microalgae for the production of biofuels. [32] [33] [34]

Venter is seeking to patent the first partially synthetic species possibly to be named Mycoplasma laboratorium . [35] There is speculation that this line of research could lead to producing bacteria that have been engineered to perform specific reactions, for example, produce fuels, make medicines, combat global warming, and so on. [36]

In May 2010, a team of scientists led by Venter became the first to create successfully what was described as "synthetic life". [37] [38] This was done by synthesizing a very long DNA molecule containing an entire bacterium genome, and introducing this into another cell, analogous to the accomplishment of Eckard Wimmer's group, who synthesized and ligated an RNA virus genome and "booted" it in cell lysate. [39] The single-celled organism contains four "watermarks" [40] written into its DNA to identify it as synthetic and to help trace its descendants. The watermarks include

  1. Code table for entire alphabet with punctuations
  2. Names of 46 contributing scientists
  3. Three quotations
  4. The secret email address for the cell. [41]

On March 25, 2016 Venter reported the creation of Syn 3.0, a synthetic genome having the fewest genes of any freely living organism (473 genes). Their aim was to strip away all nonessential genes, leaving only the minimal set necessary to support life. This stripped-down, fast reproducing cell is expected to be a valuable tool for researchers in the field. [42]

In August 2018, Venter retired as chairman of the board, saying he wanted to focus on his work at the J. Craig Venter Institute. He will remain as a scientific advisor to the board. [43]

J. Craig Venter Institute

Venter is currently the chief executive officer of the J. Craig Venter Institute, a nonprofit which conducts research in synthetic biology. Venter founded the organization in 2006. It has facilities in La Jolla and in Rockville, Maryland and employs over 200 people.

Individual human genome

On September 4, 2007, a team led by Sam Levy published one of the first genomes of an individual human—Venter's own DNA sequence. [44] Some of the sequences in Venter's genome are associated with wet earwax, [45] increased risk of antisocial behavior, Alzheimer's and cardiovascular diseases. [10] This publication was especially interesting because it attempted to separate the two haplotypes (the two copies of each chromosome), although it only accomplished this in a limited way.[ original research? ] The genome as published only had 3 billion bases, rather than the full 6 billion that would compose a fully diploid sequence. Another 10 years passed before the first haplotype-resolved human genomes began to appear.

The Human Reference Genome Browser is a web application for the navigation and analysis of Venter's recently published genome. The HuRef database consists of approximately 32 million DNA reads sequenced using microfluidic Sanger sequencing, assembled into 4,528 scaffolds and 4.1 million DNA variations identified by genome analysis. These variants include single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), block substitutions, short and large indels, and structural variations like insertions, deletions, inversions and copy number changes.

The browser enables scientists to navigate the HuRef genome assembly and sequence variations, and to compare it with the NCBI human build 36 assembly in the context of the NCBI and Ensembl annotations. The browser provides a comparative view between NCBI and HuRef consensus sequences, the sequence multi-alignment of the HuRef assembly, Ensembl and dbSNP annotations, HuRef variants, and the underlying variant evidence and functional analysis. The interface also represents the haplotype blocks from which diploid genome sequence can be inferred and the relation of variants to gene annotations. The display of variants and gene annotations are linked to external public resources including dbSNP, Ensembl, Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) and Gene Ontology (GO).

Users can search the HuRef genome using HUGO gene names, Ensembl and dbSNP identifiers, HuRef contig or scaffold locations, or NCBI chromosome locations. Users can then easily and quickly browse any genomic region via the simple and intuitive pan and zoom controls; furthermore, data relevant to specific loci can be exported for further analysis.

Human Longevity, Inc.

On March 4, 2014 Venter and co-founders Peter Diamandis and Robert Hariri announced the formation of Human Longevity, Inc., a company focused on extending the healthy, "high performance" human lifespan. [46] [47] At the time of the announcement the company had already raised $70 million in venture financing, which was expected to last 18 months. [46] [47] Venter served as the chairman and chief executive officer  (CEO) until May 2018, when he retired. The company said that it plans to sequence 40,000 genomes per year, with an initial focus on cancer genomes and the genomes of cancer patients. [46]

Human Longevity filed a lawsuit in 2018 against Venter, accusing him of stealing trade secrets. Allegations were made stating that Venter had departed with his company computer that contained valuable information that could be used to start a competing business. [48] The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed by a California judge on the basis that Human Longevity were unable to present a case that met the legal threshold required for a company, or individual, to sue when its trade secrets have been stolen. [49]

Human Longevity's mission is to extend healthy human lifespan by the use of high-resolution big data diagnostics from genomics, metabolomics, microbiomics, and proteomics, and the use of stem cell therapy. [50]

Published books

Venter is the author of two books, the first of which was an autobiography titled A Life Decoded. [10] Venter's second book was titled Life at the Speed of Light in which he announced his theory that this is the generation in which there appears to be a dovetailing of the two previously diverse fields of science represented by computer programming and the genetic programming of life by DNA sequencing. [51] He was applauded for his position on this by futurist Ray Kurzweil.

Personal life

After a brief marriage to Barbara Rae-Venter, [52] [53] with whom he had a son, Christopher, he married Claire M. Fraser [54] [16] remaining married to her until 2005. [55] In late 2008 he married Heather Kowalski. [56] They live in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, CA. [56] Venter is an atheist. [57]

Venter considered that his behavior in his adolescence was indicative of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and later found ADHD-linked genetic variants in his own DNA. [58]

Venter has been the subject of articles in several magazines, including Wired , [59] The Economist , [60] Australian science magazine Cosmos , [61] [62] and The Atlantic . [63]

Venter appears in the two-hour 2001 NOVA special, "Cracking the code of life". [64] [65]

On May 16, 2004, Venter gave the commencement speech at Boston University. [66]

On December 4, 2007, Venter gave the Dimbleby lecture for the BBC in London. [67]

Venter delivered the 2008 convocation speech for Faculty of Science honours and specialization students at the University of Alberta. [68]

In February 2008, he gave a speech about his current work at the TED conference. [69]

Venter was featured in Time magazine's "The Top 10 Everything of 2008" article. Number three in 2008's Top 10 Scientific Discoveries was a piece outlining his work stitching together the 582,000 base pairs necessary to invent the genetic information for a whole new bacterium. [70]

On May 20, 2010, Venter announced the creation of first self-replicating semi-synthetic bacterial cell. [71]

In the June 2011 issue of Men's Journal , Venter was featured as the "Survival Skills" celebrity of the month. He shared various anecdotes and advice, including stories of his time in Vietnam, as well as mentioning a bout with melanoma on his back, which subsequently resulted in his "giving a pound of flesh" to surgery. [72]

In May 2011, Venter was the commencement speaker at the 157th commencement of Syracuse University. [73] [74]

Awards and nominations


Venter has authored over 200 publications in scientific journals. [89]

See also

Related Research Articles

Genome All genetic material of an organism

In the fields of molecular biology and genetics, a genome is all genetic information of an organism. It consists of nucleotide sequences of DNA. The genome includes both the genes and the noncoding DNA, as well as mitochondrial DNA and chloroplast DNA. The study of the genome is called genomics. The genome for several organisms have been sequenced and genes analyzed, the human genome project which sequenced the entire genome for Homo sapiens was successfully completed in April 2003.

Human genome Complete set of nucleic acid sequences for humans

The human genome is a complete set of nucleic acid sequences for humans, encoded as DNA within the 23 chromosome pairs in cell nuclei and in a small DNA molecule found within individual mitochondria. These are usually treated separately as the nuclear genome and the mitochondrial genome. Human genomes include both protein-coding DNA genes and noncoding DNA. Haploid human genomes, which are contained in germ cells consist of three billion DNA base pairs, while diploid genomes have twice the DNA content. While there are significant differences among the genomes of human individuals, these are considerably smaller than the differences between humans and their closest living relatives, the bonobos and chimpanzees.

Genomics Discipline in genetics

Genomics is an interdisciplinary field of biology focusing on the structure, function, evolution, mapping, and editing of genomes. A genome is an organism's complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. In contrast to genetics, which refers to the study of individual genes and their roles in inheritance, genomics aims at the collective characterization and quantification of all of an organism's genes, their interrelations and influence on the organism. Genes may direct the production of proteins with the assistance of enzymes and messenger molecules. In turn, proteins make up body structures such as organs and tissues as well as control chemical reactions and carry signals between cells. Genomics also involves the sequencing and analysis of genomes through uses of high throughput DNA sequencing and bioinformatics to assemble and analyze the function and structure of entire genomes. Advances in genomics have triggered a revolution in discovery-based research and systems biology to facilitate understanding of even the most complex biological systems such as the brain.

Celera Corporation American corporation

Celera is a subsidiary of Quest Diagnostics which focuses on genetic sequencing and related technologies. It was founded in 1998 as a business unit of Applera, spun off into an independent company in 2008, and finally acquired by Quest Diagnostics in 2011.

Eric Lander American mathematician

Eric Steven Lander is an American mathematician and geneticist who is the 11th Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and Science Advisor to the President, serving on the Cabinet in both capacities. Lander is a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School, a former member of the Whitehead Institute, and the founding director of the Broad Institute. He is a 1987 MacArthur Fellow and Rhodes Scholar. Lander co-chaired President Barack Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

DNA sequencing Process of determining the order of nucleotides in DNA molecules

DNA sequencing is the process of determining the nucleic acid sequence – the order of nucleotides in DNA. It includes any method or technology that is used to determine the order of the four bases: adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine. The advent of rapid DNA sequencing methods has greatly accelerated biological and medical research and discovery.

J. Craig Venter Institute

The J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) is a non-profit genomics research institute founded by J. Craig Venter, Ph.D. in October 2006. The Institute was the result of consolidating four organizations: the Center for the Advancement of Genomics, The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives, and the J. Craig Venter Science Foundation Joint Technology Center. It has facilities in Rockville, Maryland and La Jolla, California.

Hamilton O. Smith

Hamilton Othanel Smith is an American microbiologist and Nobel laureate.

Synthetic Genomics (company)

Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI), is a private company located in La Jolla, California that is focused on the field of synthetic biology. SGI designs and builds biological systems to address global sustainability problems.

George Church (geneticist) American geneticist

George McDonald Church is an American geneticist, molecular engineer, and chemist. He is the Robert Winthrop Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at Harvard and MIT, and a founding member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. As of March 2017, Church serves as a member of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Board of Sponsors.

Human Genome Project Research program for sequencing the human genome

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international scientific research project with the goal of determining the base pairs that make up human DNA, and of identifying and mapping all of the genes of the human genome from both a physical and a functional standpoint. It remains the world's largest collaborative biological project. Planning started after the idea was picked up in 1984 by the US government, the project formally launched in 1990, and was declared complete on April 14, 2003. Level "complete genome" was achieved in May 2021.

Archon X Prize Award

The Archon Genomics X PRIZE presented by Express Scripts for Genomics, the second X Prize offered by the X Prize Foundation, based in Playa Vista, California, was announced on October 4, 2006 stating that the prize of "$10 million will be awarded to the first team to rapidly, accurately and economically sequence 100 whole human genomes to an unprecedented level of accuracy." The 30 day evaluation phase of the competition to begin on September 5, 2013, was canceled August 22, 2013 and this cancellation was debated on March 27, 2014.

Synthetic genomics is a nascent field of synthetic biology that uses aspects of genetic modification on pre-existing life forms, or artificial gene synthesis to create new DNA or entire lifeforms.

Applied Biosystems is one of the various brands under the Life Technologies brand of Thermo Fisher Scientific corporation. The brand is focused on integrated systems for genetic analysis, which include computerized machines and the consumables used within them.

Applera Corporation of Norwalk, Connecticut, at #874 on the 2007 Fortune 1000 list, was one of the largest international biotechnology companies based in the United States. It was the successor company to what was the Life Sciences Division of Perkin-Elmer Corporation. Applera was not publicly traded, but instead it consisted of two major groups which are publicly traded tracking stocks in the proteomics industrial sector. These two groups were the S&P 500 listed Applera Corp-Applied Biosystems Group of Foster City, California, and Applera Corp-Celera Genomics Group of Rockville, Maryland. In 2006, the company spun off the Celera Genomics group and changed its name from Applera to Applied Biosystems.

Mycoplasma laboratorium or Synthia refers to a synthetic strain of bacterium. The project to build the new bacterium has evolved since its inception. Initially the goal was to identify a minimal set of genes that are required to sustain life from the genome of Mycoplasma genitalium, and rebuild these genes synthetically to create a "new" organism. Mycoplasma genitalium was originally chosen as the basis for this project because at the time it had the smallest number of genes of all organisms analyzed. Later, the focus switched to Mycoplasma mycoides and took a more trial-and-error approach.

The Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center (BCM-HGSC) was established by Richard A. Gibbs in 1996 when Baylor College of Medicine was chosen as one of six worldwide sites to complete the final phase of the international Human Genome Project. Gibbs is the current director of the BCM-HGSC.

Whole genome sequencing Wikipedia list article

Whole genome sequencing (WGS), also known as full genome sequencing, complete genome sequencing, or entire genome sequencing, is the process of determining the entirety, or nearly the entirety, of the DNA sequence of an organism's genome at a single time. This entails sequencing all of an organism's chromosomal DNA as well as DNA contained in the mitochondria and, for plants, in the chloroplast.

Cancer genome sequencing is the whole genome sequencing of a single, homogeneous or heterogeneous group of cancer cells. It is a biochemical laboratory method for the characterization and identification of the DNA or RNA sequences of cancer cell(s).

Synthetic virology is a branch of virology engaged in the study and engineering of synthetic man-made viruses. It is a multidisciplinary research field at the intersection of virology, synthetic biology, computational biology, and DNA nanotechnology, from which it borrows and integrates its concepts and methodologies. There is a wide range of applications for synthetic viral technology such as medical treatments, investigative tools, and reviving organisms.


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Further reading