Holy sh*t! That's not a good genetic test result! (plus a bit about Craig Venter)

The diagnosis we would all shudder to get. The below image is actually a joke (reprinted from an issue of Esquire in July of 2000)


But even in reality, Craig Venter is a piece of work. I mean it's perfect that he can be quoted as saying "People who are motivated by pure greed only get their money when they produce something that's beneficial to society."

And so, I invite you to check out an interview of Dr. Venter from The Believer which has an introduction that begins:

What would it be like to know the details of your own personal programming--every A, C, T, and G as it swirls along the long, sinewy strands of your own double helix? J. Craig Venter knows.
This millionaire geneticist, one of the chief architects of the project to sequence the human genome in the late nineties, became the first lifeform on earth to possess this intimate self-knowledge. In April, 2002, he confirmed what many had already suspected: the human genome sequenced by Venter's former company, Celera, was largely comprised of Venter's own DNA. An act of supreme egotism, Venter's stunt was the equivalent of Michelangelo carving his own head onto the statue of David.

This same bravado characterized Venter's in-their-face approach against his rival during the bruising race to sequence the human genome. Front-page fodder from 1998 to 2000, the race pitted Venter's feisty start-up company, which claimed it could sequence the genome faster and cheaper, against much of the leadership of molecular biology, and the fifteen-year, $3 billion project funded by the U.S. government. The public project was led by two towering figures in genomics--James Watson, co-director of the Double Helix (with Francis Crick), and Francis Collins, co-discoverer of the gene for cystic fibrosis and the point man for the government project. After two years of attacks and counter-attacks in the media, during which Venter was accused of trying to privatize the human genome, the two sides declared a tie in July, 2000, under pressure from President Bill Clinton.

Since leaving Celera in early 2003, Venter--a former California surfer and Vietnam War medic--has founded the J. Craig Venter Foundation with about $70 million of his own money, plus grants from the Department of Energy. His primary project is to create the first-ever synthetic organism built from scratch with human-designed DNA, while also working on a project to catalogue all the genes on Earth in a global sailing expedition in his ninety-five-foot yacht, Sorcerer II, that Venter compares to the voyages of Charles Darwin.

Supremely immodest, Venter surges forth like a force of nature that can be awesome to behold. He has many admirers and has had some fantastic successes despite detractors who said he would fail. Yet he also possesses an element of danger, a sense that this ex-surfer would leap headlong into riding a Maverick's wave the size of a skyscraper whether or not he could handle it. For a man talking about creating a designer life-form, this maniacal energy makes some people nervous.

So which will it be? Will Craig Venter save us or ruin us? Or both?

Anyway, the article by David Ewing Duncun (a pdf) can be found here. It's great, but as the only geneticist interview The Believer has run, it doesn't paint an overly good picture of us DNA junkies (which is why I'm working on getting one with David Suzuki - busy guy though).


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I don't think anyone would ever accuse Craig Venter of modesty.

But, knowing some of the people in the genome community, I also don't think the human genome project would be done if Craig hadn't been around and served as a major irritant.

I also don't the genome would have ended up in the public domain. If Celera had hired someone with less of an ego, who worked in stealth mode, they would have finished the genome and patented it all long before the publicly-funded project ever got off the ground.

Instead, Craig doing his best to trumpet Celera's accomplishments across the universe, succeeded in ticking off NHGRI, thus getting the publicly-funded groups to work together and get the job done.

Nothing inspires people like loud, obnoxious competition.

Definitely. That's why I think David (Suzuki) would be both a good antithesis and complement to Venter. Very public in his own right, but sort of espousing a whole different set of values. Interesting also, because I don't necesarily agree with everything David has to say. He's definiitely done an excellence service to science communication, though - The Nature of Things rocks!