Photo of J. Craig Venter

J. Craig Venter

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For his dedication to the advancement of the science of genomics, his contributions to our understanding of its implications for society, and his commitment to the clear communication of information to the scientific community, the public, and policymakers.

J. Craig Venter on whether his life + career have met his childhood expectations

Any list of the world’s leading geneticists would be woefully incomplete without the addition of J. Craig Venter. He’s well known for his amazing scientific advancements, and almost equally as well known for his straight-­shooter, I­-can-­do-­anything attitude. Venter burst onto the genetics scene in the early 1990s and has scarcely left the spotlight since.

In 1998, he spearheaded the private effort to sequence the human genome. In order to do it faster and more efficiently, Venter devised a technique called shotgun sequencing. That method allowed him to break the millions of letters involved in the human genome into more manageable segments. Those fragments could then be stitched back together using the most powerful civilian supercomputer available at the time. Dr. Venter managed to map the entirety of the human genome several years before the federally-­funded national effort succeeded in doing the same thing.

But Venter was far from finished. In May 2010, he and his team at the J. Craig Venter Institute announced that they had created the first organism constructed entirely with synthetic DNA. The self-­replicating bacterium Mycoplasma capricolum was a major milestone in science that hopefully holds the key to innovations as varied as sustainable biofuels and artificial organs.

A relentless entrepreneur, Venter’s latest venture, Human Longevity Inc., is aiming to sequence as many as 100,000 human genomes in the coming years. Venter hopes that that amount of data will enable him to compile a comprehensive picture of human health and look for triggers as well as solutions for diseases, especially age­-related ones.

He is also at the forefront of the push to merge computers and biological data. One such merger might involve what he terms ‘biological teleportation.’ Simply put, this would involve transmitting protein-­ and living cell­-synthesizing DNA sequences over the internet. Digital printers could then reassemble the information and set to work on, for example, replicating flu vaccines at speeds impossible given current methods.

Whatever he tackles next is likely to be big–­­few things about J. Craig Venter seem to be less than larger than life. You can follow him and his exploits on Twitter @JCVenter.