The Third Symposium on the Nature of Science
J. Craig Venter
Watch the talk (running time 1:05)
Dr. Venter plans a lively discussion in which he takes his audience through a brief history of the young but burgeoning field of genomics. He highlights the events leading up to the historic sequencing of the human genome and some of the interesting and surprising findings from this work. For example, he will outline the fewer than expected number of human genes and the implications for future understanding of human biology, the incredible similarities between humans and other species at the genetic level, and the evolutionary lessons that will be gleaned from having the human and multiple other genomes available.
Given that Dr. Venter's new organizations are covering a wide spectrum of issues in genomics he will highlight some of these projects including the exciting work that is being undertaken at the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives (IBEA). IBEA's mission is to explore and potentially develop biological solutions toward production of cleaner energy or dealing with carbon sequestration. Specifically, he and his team are applying the same techniques used to sequence the human genome (whole-genome shotgun sequencing, a technique he pioneered for rapid genome sequencing) of environments and have begun a project to sequence all the organisms in the Sargasso Sea. Scientists at IBEA are also working toward the creation of a synthetic chromosome which the team hopes will eventually lead to the creation of a synthetic organism that could be tailored to eliminate pollution in the environment of perhaps efficiently produce cleaner fuels such as hydrogen.
Dr. Venter concludes with an overview of the way he envisions everyone benefiting from the genomics revolution and genomic-based medicine. He will discuss current collaborations underway with his organization along with major US academic medical centers in which scientists and physicians are trying to integrate genomic data into the clinical setting. Dr. Venter is passionate about the advances that genomics will bring to everyday life and inspires his listeners with his views on how genomics will empower everyone to take a more active role in their health. He details a world in the not too distant future where parents of newborns will leave the hospital with their baby's genetic code on a CD-ROM and how this will enable them to directly impact the health outcomes of their child.
J. Craig Venter is the president of three not-for-profit organizations, The Center for the Advancement of Genomics, the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives, and the J. Craig Venter Science Foundation. These organizations are dedicated to exploring social and ethical issues in genomics, as well as seeking alternative solutions to energy through microbial sources.
Dr. Venter served in the Vietnam War as a medical corpsman from 1967 to 1968. This life-altering time strengthened his resolve to get an education and to make a difference in the world. After his tour of duty ended, he returned to California and earned a bachelorŐs degree in biochemistry in 1972 and a Ph.D. in Physiology and Pharmacology in 1975, both from the University of California at San Diego. After being a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Dr. Venter became a researcher at the National Institutes of Health. While serving first as a Section Chief and then as a Lab Chief in the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, he developed expressed sequence tags or ESTŐs, a revolutionary new strategy for gene discovery.
In 1992, he and his wife, Dr. Claire Fraser, founded The Institute for Genomic Research known as TIGR, where he served as President and Chief Scientific Officer until 1998. Dr. Venter and his team at TIGR decoded the genome of the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae, making it the first free-living organism to have its full DNA deciphered and to date have sequenced over 25 genomes. In 1998 Dr. Venter founded Celera Genomics as a means to test the whole genome shotgun technique, new mathematical algorithms, as well as new automated DNA sequencing machines. The experiment proved successful first with the sequence of the fruit fly and then with the first sequence and analysis of the human genome. Dr. Venter and his team published their analysis of the human genome in February 2001 in the scientific journal, Science.
Through his leadership as Chairman of the Board of The Institute for Genomic Research and as a founder and former President of Celera Genomics, Dr. Venter has played a leading and vital role in genomics. His accomplishments in decoding the genetic sequences of other organisms, particularly the fruit fly and mouse, have also provided important scientific insights, including a new understanding of the genetic relationship between species. He has published more than 200 research articles and is among the most frequently cited scientists in biology and medicine.
Dr. Venter is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees and scientific awards including the 2002 Gardiner Foundation International Prize, the 2001 Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize, the 2001 Takeda Award for Techno-Entrepreneurial Achievement for Individual/Humanity Well-Being, the 2000 King Faisal Award in Science, and the Common Wealth Award. Dr. Venter is a member of many scientific organizations including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and The American Society for Microbiology.
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