Gene sequencing/synthetic biology pioneer
J. Craig Venter
Founder, chairman and president
J. Craig Venter Institute
Craig Venter has been accused of arrogance, hubris, and being difficult to work with. But what's a little criticism to a scientist with his accomplishments?
The synthetic biotechnology businessman and life sciences pioneer has reached higher than most in the life sciences world. He's one of the first people to sequence the human genome (and have his genome sequenced). His team at his eponymously-named J. Craig Venter Institute also made history, and then sparked plenty of controversy, by successfully building the first self-replicating synthetic bacterial cell. Time magazine cited him as one of the "people who mattered" in its 2010 "Person of the Year" issue.
Venter's boldness and imagination makes him someone who rightfully commands attention in the life sciences world. He thinks big, and likely kick-started a genetic engineering industry with his creation of a synthetic bacterial cell. While it has no commercial application yet, he has argued that the finding could help create fuels or other necessary resources. But a synthetic biological entity also raises plenty of ethical and environmental concerns. The impact of a synthetic biological life form on the environment, for example, is something that remains fiercely argued and debated globally among scientists and environmentalists alike.
Also, controversy keeps following him. Venter dubbed his 2010 finding "an important step" after 15 years of research. But top U.K. scientist John Sulston expressed concern that Venter and his team would seek a patent over their new life form, creating a genetic engineering monopoly. (Venter and his team wrote their names into the DNA of the new cell, essentially signing their work.)
An interviewer with Der Spiegel in July 2010 asked Venter why his peers were so hostile toward him. Venter brushed off the question, citing his "superior intelligence, planning and technology." Unlike some rivals, he could have also cited his business acumen. Before the J. Craig Venter Institute, he launched Celera Genomics in the late 1990s to sequence the human genome, using tools he and his colleagues developed.
Venter, meanwhile, is building a new, $35 million home in San Diego for his institute's ongoing synthetic biology research.