J. Craig Venter: Designing Life

Its no secret I love Craig Venter. He is inspiring. He is mother fucking inspiring. Never met him, probably wont ever, but I have a feeling his “CRAIG VENTER IS AN ASS!” reputation is similar to Dawkins “RICKARD DAWKINS IS MEAN!!!!” reputation. And even if he is a complete ass, I am inspired by his ability to be the Willy Wonka of the scientific world.


  1. #1 Ivan
    November 23, 2010

    Willy Wonka of the scientific world

    <snort, choke on beverage> But who are his Oompa-Loompas? That’s what I wanna know.

  2. #2 Daniel Schealler
    November 23, 2010

    I don’t care whether a person is an asshole anymore.

    I’ll take an ass-kicking, effective, reliable, results-driven asshole over a soppily innefective wet hen that just wants to be everyone’s friend any day of the week.

    Even if it’s my ass that they’re kicking, at least I’ll know what’s expected of me, why, and when. I can work to that. And if I have a genuine problem and need resources to fix it? Once I communicate that to said asshole, they’ll kick ass and take names in order to get me those resources.

    Fuck social skills – just deliver what you said you’d deliver when you said you’d deliver it and I’ll come away thinking you’re golden.

  3. #3 Jared
    November 24, 2010

    You can be the most egocentric asshole in the world when you are always right…

  4. #4 Optimus Primate
    November 24, 2010

    Craig Venter is cool. Steve Kroft is a douche monkey. That is all.

  5. #5 Thinker
    November 24, 2010

    “If you can do it, you’re not bragging!”

  6. #6 Birger Johansson
    November 24, 2010

    Just watch “House, MD.” and ask which kind of doctor you want…

  7. #7 Kemanorel
    November 24, 2010

    But who are his Oompa-Loompas? That’s what I wanna know.

    Me (hopefully)! I’m probably going to apply to the J. Craig Venter Institute for employment in the next few months after I finish my degree. I would love to work with a guy like Venter. (I highly doubt I’d work with him personally even if I got hired, but it’d still be awesome to work their.)

    …I have a feeling his “CRAIG VENTER IS AN ASS!” reputation is similar to Dawkins “RICKARD DAWKINS IS MEAN!!!!” reputation.

    I think Abby’s right. He has a bad reputation because he brags about his accomplishments (kind of), and that makes him an ass/arrogent/egotist/etc but I could care less since he’s right, and the work he’s done is brilliant and opening a new era of science.

    I’m sick of the childish “don’t brag about the cool shit you’ve done because you might make someone who hasn’t done anything feel bad” mentality we have. Screw that. This isn’t the grade school play ground. I say brag and elevate the elite. We should praising the best, not making the average feel good about themselves.

    Venter is my hero, and I hope he continues to rock the science world.

  8. #8 Charles Hixson
    November 24, 2010

    I’m fairly sure he’s a conceited bastard. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a lot to be conceited about.

    Remember, this is the guy that decided that the first human genome to be sequenced was his own. That’s certainly not modest. He sort of did it, though, so give him fair credit. He’s conceited, but he’s got a lot to be conceited about.

    Next point: He’s pushy. Since he’s both conceited and pushy (and powerful enough to get away with it) I think bastard is not an unfair characterization. This doesn’t mean he isn’t a net social benefit. I’d go so far as to say that he’s earned the right to be conceited and a bit pushy. But as he chooses to exercise that right, I wouldn’t like him as an associate. I can applaud the benefit he brings to society without liking him. (I don’t know his social mannerisms, but I don’t like people who run over me, even when they’re doing something I feel should be done, and even when they do it in a very polite manner.)

  9. #9 Hunter
    November 24, 2010

    It’s probably worth pointing out that Wonka was an ass and a sorcerer who brought industrialism to truly new areas of human endeavor, and Venter is all of this too. The parallels are kind of scary.

  10. #10 Doc Bill
    November 24, 2010

    I would have Venter’s baby and he could make it happen! Srsly.

    When I was in grad school during the Pleistocene we had some BAMF’s in the department (chemistry). Once you had been skinned alive by these guys your next skin grew back thicker and you spent 15 more minutes working on your argument.

    The standing joke was “Do you think Dr. Brown is playing God?” with the answer, “Let me tell you a secret. In his spare time God plays Dr. Brown.”

    Ha, those were the days! Also, I bet God’s kicking himself in the ass that he didn’t sign his DNA like Venter did.

    Hey, Stephen Meyer, we found the signature in the cell! It reads “Venter made this.”

  11. #11 Phodopus
    November 25, 2010

    Willi Wonka and the Chocolate Factory … of DEATH!

    …er I mean LIFE.

  12. #12 scramton
    November 26, 2010

    I liked the part when he said we need an algae fuel production facility the size of San Francisco. Nah just make one the size of your ego dude and were all good.

  13. #13 Jason
    November 29, 2010


    So not drinking the kool-aid here =(

    I think it’s weird to attribute him / Celera with sequencing the genome when
    (1) They were pulling data generated from the public effort and using that in concert with their own data
    (2) His motivation for publishing first was for IP purposes; we’re all better off that it was judged a “tie” and that the genome was not patented.
    (3) Personal knowledge from previous PIs about what went down at Celera.

    I don’t know — I think the Celera effort was helpful, but I don’t think he’s really done all that much to push the genomics revolution.

    And that’s speaking as a genomicist (you know what I do, other readers won’t, though).

  14. #14 HFM
    November 30, 2010

    I’m not exactly on Team Venter – but whether you like him or not, you have to give the guy some props.

    Dude has giant brass cojones. Big enough to give the Statue of Liberty a sex change. It’s just sick. Human Genome Project too slow? Screw you guys, I’ll start my own, and sequence ME. I want to travel the world in my yacht? I’ll slap some sequencers in there and call it science. Sick of these punk-ass journalists saying “oh, but you can’t make life”? I’m going to round up my Nobel Prize buddies and build my own little critter genome, and we’re going to sign our names on it. Oh, and that will cost millions of dollars. I’m going to get people to “invest” while publicly admitting we won’t make any money on it.

    …seriously. Brass balls. I’m a synthetic biologist; the reaction on the ground is a mix of “WTF??” and “dammit I wish I could get away with doing that”.

    Is he an ass? Yeah. And I am not just saying that because he brags. It’s the “I am the nerd messiah” rhetoric that gets to me. Also when anyone tries to piss in his techno-utopian cornflakes, he takes it as a personal attack, and responds accordingly. (Never happened to me, but I’ve heard stories…)

  15. #15 Jason
    November 30, 2010

    Apologies all around – this post is going to be a tl;dr =(

    Wait HFM, is this really your take on Venter and the HGP?

    “Human Genome Project too slow? Screw you guys, I’ll start my own, and sequence ME”


    This is SO not how EST-based/shotgun sequencing –> HGP happened it’s painful. It was (1) more cost effective, and (2) faster, but when they entered the field huge tracts of the genome were already on genbank. The motivation here was not “I’ll sequence it faster and sequence me because I am teh_awesome” It was, “I’ll finish before those guys, publish it, and patent the thing so any subsequent use of the information will need licensing.” Note that this went down when he was at TIGR, and thus after he was at NIH. Private financing usually comes at the promise of a profit. Not so with the public endeavor.

    Yeah, that was totally awesome. I’m so glad the public research enterprise mimics this model.

    And as for the synthetic biology that Venter went live with:

    1) Collect sequence from one bacterium
    2) Modified it slightly
    3) Synthesize that DNA
    4) Implant resulting genome into closely related bacterium.

    Suffice it to say, it’s cool, but (and correct me if I’m wrong) I sincerely doubt that the entire synthetic bio community collectively jizzed their pants at the same time. I say this because the people I know here in related/relevant fields were not as awe-struck as you seem to be.

    Like I said, I’m not taking this side to be a contrarion or shit on anyone or anyone’s world view in particular, and it’s not jealousy, but I just can’t see the draw of being one of his fanboys.

    It is this perspective, coupled with my experience in undergrad research with a PI who co-founded Celera, and my current thesis committee chair, who was a big player in the public effort, that my view on genomics is what it is; I think Venter’s involvement was helpful, but I don’t see at as that revolutionary. And the same is true with the current study; it’s cool, but in the end it does not advance the field (at least, not my humble opinion).

  16. #16 HFM
    November 30, 2010

    Like I said, I’m not Venter’s fangirl – his sheer chutzpah impresses me, in a weird sort of way, but that’s it.

    And I agree with you re: the synthetic bacterium. Scientifically…was anyone really surprised that it worked? Not so much. They basically hand-copied a working bacterium, minus a few spare parts and plus some graffiti. There is no sane reason to do this, unless you count bragging rights as a sane reason. (Yes, it was technically challenging. So is biting your own elbow. And it’s not a commercial technique; it’s too damn hard.)

    I do know that Celera had a business plan, one that made sense at the time, even if it wasn’t the most socially responsible thing ever. I’m not convinced that Synthetic Genomics had one, at least to start with. It went something like this:

    1) Synthetic Cell!

    1a) Collect news clippings for company bulletin board

    2) …

    3) Biofuels?

    4) Profit!

    To their credit, they’ve more or less handed the synthetic cell thing back to their research arm at JCVI, and are focusing on the biofuels->profit aspect (along with everyone else). But for a while there…

  17. #17 Brian
    March 4, 2011

    There was a great article published in the Winter Issue of back\slash Magazine (the college lifestyle magazine) about J. Craig Venter. It’s definitely worth reading, especially if you’re a college student. Here is the link: http://www.backslashonline.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=572:man-playing-god?&Itemid=41

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