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Venter, Craig

genome human hgp genes

1945– ) US molecular biologist: head of Celera Genomics; a dynamic contributor to elucidation of the human genome.

Venter grew up to be a high-school drop-out at 17 whose time was spent swimming, surfing, boat-building and sailing in San Francisco Bay (his parents had met in the Marines), until call-up in 1965. Briefly a naval swimming instructor, he came highest in an IQ test of 35 000 conscripts, scoring 144, and was rewarded by a four-month course in basic medicine, before service as an orderly in a naval hospital. The brutal experience of the Vietnam War led him to study biochemistry, physiology and pharmacology on his release in 1968; he achieved a doctorate in minimal time (six years) and became a molecular biologist impatient to see the subject advance, and was soon working at NIH in Maryland which was involved in the HGP from its inception in 1990. He was there until 1992, and after that headed genome research in the ‘commercial sector’ which aimed to patent some genetic information even when its possible clinical applications were unknown; an approach strongly opposed by and others, and antipathetic to the HGP ‘free access’ philosophy. In 1992, using novel methods he had devised for rapid sequencing, Venter obtained the first complete genome for a free-living organism, the bacterium H. influenzae , with 1743 genes. Thereafter, elucidation of the human genome (with many more genes) was seen as clearly achievable; targets were set (NIH in 1993 planned for success by 2005) and a clear competition between the ‘private’ and ‘public’ (ie Human Genome Project, or HGP) organizations was apparent, though at times denied.

Automated sequencing machines using capillary electrophoresis, and massive computing power to use the overlaps in DNA fragments to solve the jigsaw-like problems of deducing larger sequences from overlaps, opened the way to solving the problems of the genome in months rather than years. The ebullient, risk-taking Venter exploited these techniques in his company, Celera Genomics of Rockville, MD. By June 2000 an armistice between Celera led by Venter, and the HGP groups centred on the Sanger Centre in Cambridge, England and led by Sulston, allowed publication of a ‘working draft’ of the human genome, and comparison of the contributions the ‘private’ and ‘public’ teams had made. Further rapid progress followed to check and complete the sequencing, to locate the genes within the DNA chains (which contain much apparently redundant sequenced material), and to find ways in which this wealth of new knowledge (the ‘blueprint for the human being’) can provide beneficial uses.

Vergil, Polydore (c. 1470–1555) - BIOGRAPHY, MAJOR WORKS AND THEMES, CRITICAL RECEPTION [next] [back] Vening Meinesz, Felix Andries

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