J. Craig Venter, Ph.D, currently is president of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), a not-for-profit he founded that advances the science of genomics, specializes in high volume genome sequencing, explores the ethical and social implications of genomic discoveries and seeks alternative energy solutions through genomics.
In 1991, when on the faculty at the National Institutes of Health, Venter developed expressed sequence tags, a revolutionary new strategy to rapidly discover genes. In 1992, Venter founded The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), a not-for-profit research institute, where in 1995 he and his team decoded the genome of the first free-living organism, the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae, pioneering the whole genome shotgun technique. This advance opened the gates to more discoveries in genomics. TIGR went on to sequence and analyze more than 50 microbial genomes.
In 1998, while Venter served as the first president of Celera Genomics, the human genome was sequenced using shotgun sequencing technology, in a race against the publicly funded Human Genome Project. In 2000, President Clinton and the two competing teams announced they had independently sequenced a human genome. The completed sequence of the human genome was published in February 2001 in Science. In addition to the human genome, Venter and his team at Celera sequenced fruit fly, mouse, and rat genomes.
In 2006, Venter and his team finished their voyage around the globe to catalogue and decode the genes of the ocean's unknown microorganisms. The initial results of the global ocean sampling uncovered more than six million new genes and thousands of new protein families from organisms found in seawater.
In Venter’s quest to design the first synthetic organism, scientists at JCVI announced in early 2008 that they had built the first synthetic genome by stitching together its chemical components. The next big step would be to insert the synthetic chromosome into a living microbe and have it take control of the organism. The hope is that biological robots can one day produce from scratch chemicals that humans can use, such as biofuel.
Through his discoveries, Venter has opened up the scientific research of the microbial world and how it affects humans. Though the monetary value of his work cannot be estimated, many scientists predict that these discoveries may revolutionize personal medicine, pharmaceuticals, and biofuels in coming years. Examples include individualized genomic medicine; new vaccines and treatments for worldwide health threats; and new ways to develop biologically-driven sources of energy.