Venter, J. Craig 1946-

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Venter, J. Craig 1946-


Born October 14, 1946, in Salt Lake City, UT; married Claire Fraser (a scientist). Education: University of California at San Diego, B.S., 1972, Ph.D., 1975.


Office—J. Craig Venter Institute, 9704 Medical Center Dr., Rockville, MD 20850.


Molecular biologist. State University of New York, Buffalo, professor, 1976-82; National Institutes of Health, researcher, 1983, section and lab chief of the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 1984-92; Institute for Genomic Research, founder, 1992-98; Celera Genomics, founder, president, and chief executive, 1998-2002; J. Craig Venter Institute, founder, 2002—. Chair of the science advisory board of Applera Corporation; board of trustees for the Institute for Genomic Research; visiting scholar, Harvard University, 2008-09. Military service: U.S. Navy, served as a hospital corpsman in Vietnam, 1967-68.


American Academy of Microbiology, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Society for Microbiology.


Beckman award, 1999; biotechnology research award, Chiron Corporation, 1999; King Faisal International Prize for Science, 2000; Taylor International Prize in Medicine, Robarts Research Institute, 2001; Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize; Gairdner award, 2002; honorary doctorate, Arizona State University, 2007; named one of the world's one hundred most influential people, Time, 2007.


(Editor, with Len C. Harrison) Receptor Purification Procedures, A.R. Liss (New York, NY), 1984.

(Editor, with Len C. Harrison) Membranes, Detergents, and Receptor Solubilization, A.R. Liss (New York, NY), 1984.

(Editor, with Len C. Harrison) Molecular and Chemical Characterization of Membrane Receptors, A.R. Liss (New York, NY), 1984.

(Editor, with Claire M. Fraser and Jon Lindstrom) Monoclonal and Anti-idiotypic Antibodies: Probes for Receptor Structure and Function, A.R. Liss (New York, NY), 1984.

(Editor, with Richard W. Olsen) Benzodiazepine/GABA Receptors and Chloride Channels: Structural and Functional Properties, A.R. Liss (New York, NY), 1986.

(Editor, with David Triggle) Structure and Physiology of the Slow Inward Calcium Channel, Liss (New York, NY), 1987.

(Editor, with Chan Y. Jung) Target-size Analysis of Membrane Proteins, A.R. Liss (New York, NY), 1987.

(With others) The Sequence of the Human Genome, Celera (Rockville, MD), 2001.

A Life Decoded: My Genome, My Life (memoir), Viking (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to Science.


J. Craig Venter is an American molecular biologist. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on October 14, 1946, he was a frequent surfer before serving with the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War as a hospital corpsman from 1967 to 1968. After returning from Vietnam he enrolled at the University of California at San Diego, earning a bachelor of science degree in 1972. He remained at the university and completed a Ph.D. there in 1975.

The following year Venter began working as a professor at the State University of New York, Buffalo, remaining there until 1982. He left academia and began working as a researcher with the National Institutes of Health. With the organization he eventually became section and lab chief for the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Frustrated with the slow-moving process of sequencing genes, he founded the Institute for Genomic Research in 1992 and developed a process to speed up the identification of genes by creating expressed sequence tags and subsequently finding the gene-coding regions they came from. With this quicker process he was able to discover hundreds of genes in only a matter of weeks.

In May 1998 Venter founded the for-profit company Celera, serving as its president and chief executive. The company immediately began producing thousands of expressed sequence tags of the human genome. This added a new dynamic to the race to map the human genome, with Venter eventually surpassing the government-funded Human Genome Project in its quest to map the human genome. Venter continued to find innovative techniques to speed up the process of identifying gene sequences, succeeding in mapping most of the fruit fly Drosophila in one year's time. In 2002 Venter created the J. Craig Venter Institute, which combined the Center for the Advancement of Genomics, the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives, and the J. Craig Venter Science Foundation Joint Technology Center. The Institute continues its work in genome mapping as well as looking into the social repercussions of eventually mapping it.

Venter has received numerous awards and recognitions for his contribution to mapping the human genome and sequencing techniques. These include the Beckman award and a biotechnology research award from the Chiron Corporation, both in 1999, the King Faisal International Prize for Science in 2000, and the Taylor International prize in Medicine from the Robarts Research Institute in 2001. In 2007 he was named one of Time magazine's top one hundred most influential people in the world.

In addition to his groundbreaking study of changing one species of bacteria to another one, published in Science in 2007, Venter has authored, edited, or collaborated on a number of published works. In 1984, he edited several publications with Len C. Harrison, including Receptor Purification Procedures, Membranes, Detergents, and Receptor Solubilization, and Molecular and Chemical Characterization of Membrane Receptors. That same year he also edited Monoclonal and Anti-idiotypic Antibodies: Probes for Receptor Structure and Function with Claire M. Fraser and Jon Lindstrom.

In 1986 he edited Benzodiazepine/GABA Receptors and Chloride Channels: Structural and Functional Properties with Richard W. Olsen. The following year he edited both Structure and Physiology of the Slow Inward Calcium Channel with David Triggle and Target-size Analysis of Membrane Proteins with Chan Y. Jung. In 2001 he collaborated on publishing The Sequence of the Human Genome.

Venter published a memoir, A Life Decoded: My Genome, My Life, in 2007. In it he describes his early life as a mediocre student and a surfing enthusiast. He describes the transformation he underwent while serving in Vietnam and how his return to the United States saw a sharp and quick rise to scientific recognition due to his risk-taking methods. He also describes the personal issues involved in the race to mapping the human genome.

Kate Fillion, interviewing the author in Maclean's, asked Venter about the personal costs in the race to sequence the human genome. Venter explained that "it was a very stressful period, but to me, the cost was more a loss of innocence about how high-end science is conducted. I'd like to still maintain a naive view, that science is the only field whose goal is the absolute pursuit of truth about the world around us, and that scientific facts should win out above all other things. But because I was a scientist trying to move the human genome forward, faster, I was called Hitler." Katherine Leitzell, interviewing Venter in an article for the U.S. News & World Report, asked whether his reasons for writing his memoir were related to the controversial race to sequence the human genome. To this, Venter replied: "That was a reason, but certainly not the principal reason. It's about my life in science and how it led up to that and also how I've moved significantly beyond it. But I do feel that [the genome race] has been dramatically misrepresented in some quarters. I wanted to say it in my own words, explain my motivations as a scientist."

When asked by Leitzell what he had learned about himself in the process of writing the memoir, Venter recalled that "it was wonderfully cathartic for me to get down some of my thoughts and feelings, in particular about Vietnam." Fillion, in her interview with the author in Maclean's, brought up the fact that the media frequently accuses him of being in the business for the vanity of making these discoveries and popularizing himself, noting his memoir. To this point, Venter replied: "I thought that's what autobiographies are supposed to be about: the person that wrote them. Anybody who becomes a public figure will have a given percentage of detractors just for being successful. My best way to answer critics is by constantly moving forward in science and trying to make more breakthroughs that have an impact on the world."

Peter Dizikes, writing in the New York Times Book Review, reminded readers that "a draft of one human genome is less a destination than an early signpost on a long scientific journey; the technical advances speeding up that journey matter as much or more. The hype over the genome race thus both overrates and underrates Venter's career. The contest itself did not exactly revolutionize genomics, but Venter's aggressive insistence upon faster sequencing methods throughout his career would have been influential even if no such race had occurred." Dizikes claimed, however, that the author is "certainly a significant scientist," pointing out that "the most important elements of his career may not be the most famous ones." Mary Chitty, reviewing the book in Library Journal, commented that the autobiography is "not overly modest." Chitty observed that Venter "paints an intriguing picture of the challenges, complexities, and dilemmas of cutting-edge science and medical research." Matthew Herber, writing in Forbes, noted that "Venter's Great Man act might frustrate those who like their science with a dose of modesty or circumspection," appending that "that big ego has left in its wake chaos and bitter feelings." Kenneth W. Krause, writing in the Humanist, called the account "a well-conceived and highly informative, if somewhat self-gratifying and gracelessly indignant, autobiography."



Almanac of Famous People, 9th edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2007.

Venter, J. Craig, A Life Decoded: My Genome, My Life, Viking (New York, NY), 2007.

World of Microbiology and Immunology, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2008.


Africa News Service, May 7, 2003, "Craig Venter: CEO, Altech," p. 1008127; November 14, 2005, "Maverick Biologist Follows in the Footsteps of Darwin."

A.M. Best Newswire, September 5, 2003, "Genomics Offers New Medical Advances—and New Problems for Insurers," p. 1008248.

American Scientist, July 1, 2001, "Venter Receives Common Wealth Award," p. 381.

Atlantic Monthly, January 1, 2007, Ross Douthat, "The God of Small Things."

Baltimore Business Journal, October 21, 1994, "Former NIH Gene Whiz on Fast, and Controversial, Track," p. 33.

Baltimore Sun, June 30, 2005, William A. Rodger, "Biotech Pioneer Starts New Venture in Rockville, Md."

BioWorld Week, February 19, 2001, "Venter Gives Glimpse of Human Genome Articles," p. 2; August 26, 2002, "Venter to Create DNA Sequencing Laboratory," p. 1.

Biotech Business Week, March 8, 2004, "Venter to Chair Scientific Advisory Board at Genomics Firm," p. 156.

Biotech Week, November 5, 2003, "Venter Joins Board of Directors at Molecular Diagnostics Firm," p. 223; March 10, 2004, "Venter to Chair Scientific Advisory Board at Genomics Firm," p. 489.

Booklist, October 1, 2007, Gilbert Taylor, review of A Life Decoded, p. 10.

Boston Globe, August 16, 2000, "Rockville, MD, Genomics Group Chief Wants to Identify Proteins in Cells"; January 23, 2002, "Outspoken Chief Steps down at Rockville, Md, Human-Genome Mapping Firm," November 14, 2003, "Scientists Discover Rapid Gene-Building Method."

British Medical Journal, October 5, 2002, Geoff Watts, "Unmasking the Secret of Life," p. 736.

Business Week, April 26, 1999, "Playing God in the Lab," p. 83; February 4, 2002, "Craig Venter: Decoupling a Gene Decoder," p. 46.

Business Wire, January 22, 2002, "J. Craig Venter Steps down as President of Celera Genomics," p. 22; June 3, 2003, "Craig Venter Receives EMC Information Leadership Award," p. 5543; January 25, 2005, "Human Genome Mapping Pioneer, J. Craig Venter, and World Wide Web Inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, Headline Keynote Lineup for Bio-IT World Conference + Expo."

Chemistry and Industry, July 10, 2000, Alex Crawford, "Venter Takes All?," p. 422; March 5, 2001, Marina Murphy, "Venter," p. 135.

Chicago Tribune, June 28, 2000, "Head of Genome Decoding Firm Comes to Chicago to Find Investment Bankers."

Discover, May 1, 1998, James Shreeve, "The Code Breaker," p. 44; December 1, 2004, David Ewing Duncan, "Gene Savant Sifts Life from Seas," p. 18; October 1, 2005, Michael W. Robbins, "The Promise of Pond Scum," p. 68.

Economist, January 26, 2008, "Nearly There; Artificial Life," p. 77.

Entrepreneur, February 1, 2003, Geoff Williams, "I Dream of Genes," p. 34.

Esquire, June 1, 2001, Wil S. Hylton "Who Owns This Body?," p. 102; November 1, 2002, Wil S. Hylton, "J. Craig Venter," p. 154; December 1, 2002, Wil S. Hylton, "It Took Us from the Dawn of Time to the Year 2000 to Map the Human Genome," p. 166.

Financial Times, December 30, 2000, Clive Cookson, "The Selfish Geneticist," p. 10; September 28, 2002, David Firn, "Breeding Bugs That May Help Save the World," p. 11.

Forbes, July 23, 2007, Matthew Herber, "Hype in Genes," p. 40.

Fortune, May 30, 1994, Gene Bylinsky, "Genetics: The Money Rush Is On," p. 94.

Gene Therapy Weekly, July 6, 2000, "Groups Deny They Are Racing."

Genomics & Genetics Weekly, May 31, 2002, "Biotech Executive's DNA Used in Mapping Human Genome," p. 13; June 28, 2002, "Venter Announces Formation of Three Genomics Organizations," p. 18; December 27, 2002, "Scientists Attempt to Create New Life Form in Lab," p. 20; December 12, 2003, "Scientists Build Biologically Active Genome Using Improved Methods," p. 43; October 29, 2004, "J. Craig Venter Institute Not-for-profit Organization Announced," p. 93.

Harvard Business Review, March 1, 2000, Juan Enriquez, "Transforming Life, Transforming Business," p. 96.

Health & Medicine Week, March 8, 2004, "Venter to Chair Scientific Advisory Board at Genomics Firm," p. 707.

Humanist, May 1, 2008, Kenneth W. Krause, review of A Life Decoded.

Industry Standard, January 15, 2001, Jennifer Couzin, "The Gene Hackers," p. 122.

Journal of Clinical Investigation, March 1, 2008, Arthur L. Caplan, review of A Life Decoded, p. 828.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2007, review of A Life Decoded.

Lancet, June 26, 1999, Marilynn Larkin, "J Craig Venter," p. 2218.

Library Journal, October 1, 2007, Mary Chitty, review of A Life Decoded, p. 91.

Maclean's, June 25, 2007, "Craig Venter: It's Alive: Beach Bum Makes New Life Form," p. 46; October 29, 2007, Kate Fillion, "Multi-millionaire J. Craig Venter Talks to Kate Fillion about Flunking out of School, Ambition, and Beating the U.S. Government," p. 20.

Money, September 1, 2000, "Everyone into the Gene Pool," p. 38.

Newsweek, April 10, 2000, "The Gold Rush," p. 64; February 26, 2001, Sharon Begley, "Showdown in the DNA Corral," p. 62; June 16, 2008, Fareed Zakaria, "A Bug to Save the Planet," p. 40.

Newsweek International, June 4, 2007, Barrett Sheridan, "Making It Happen"; September 17, 2007, Fred Guterl, "Inventing Himself"; October 15, 2007, "The 10 Hottest Nerds."

New York Times, February 12, 2001, Nicholas Wade, "Long-held Beliefs Are Challenged by New Human Genome Analysis," p. 20; April 27, 2002, Nicholas Wade, "Scientist Reveals Secret of Genome: It's His," p. 1; May 3, 2002, Arthur L. Caplan, "His Genes, Our Genome," p. 23; May 7, 2002, Nicholas Wade, "Mouse Genome Is New Battleground for Project Rivals," p. 2; May 29, 2003, Nicholas Wade, "Project Will Seek to Uncover Genetic Roots of Major Diseases," p. 20; March 5, 2004, Andrew Pollack, "Groundbreaking Gene Scientist Is Taking His Craft to the Oceans," p. 19; March 7, 2005, Anthony Depalma, "After Mapping the Human Genome, Analyzing the City's Air," p. 1; March 14, 2007, "National Briefing Science and Health: Gene Discovery Voyage," p. 15.

New York Times Book Review, November 11, 2007, Peter Dizikes, review of A Life Decoded, p. 62.

Obesity, Fitness & Wellness Week, October 30, 2004, "J. Craig Venter Institute Not-for-profit Organization Announced," p. 614.

OnEarth, June 22, 2006, "Voyage of the Sorcerer," p. 8.

PC Magazine Online, November 21, 2005, "Google Gene Project Comes into Question."

PR Newswire, May 15, 2000, "J. Craig Venter Donates Proceeds of King Faisal Science Award to TIGR to Fund Genome Sequencing of Deadly Cattle Disease," p. 2210; May 15, 2000, "Three Americans Honored with Top International Prize," p. 2211; April 30, 2002, "J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., Announces Formation of Three Not-for-Profit Organizations"; August 15, 2002, "J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., Joins the Board of Directors at U.S. Genomics"; October 6, 2003, "Dr. J. Craig Venter Joins Ionian Technologies Board of Directors."

People, June 12, 1995, Richard Jerome, "The Gene Hunter," p. 57; August 14, 2000, "The Code of Life," p. 129; December 25, 2000, "J. Craig Venter," p. 96.

Pharmaceutical Technology, January 1, 2002, "Genome Scientists Receive Award," p. 70.

Philadelphia Inquirer, June 26, 2000, "Rebel Scientist's Unorthodox Style Helped Speed up DNA Research"; June 27, 2000, "Scientists Complete Rough Draft of the Human Genome Sequence."

Publishers Weekly, July 30, 2007, review of A Life Decoded, p. 69.

San Diego Business Journal, November 5, 2001, Marin Webb, "UCSD Alum Venter Shares Vision of Human Genome," p. 6.

San Jose Mercury News, February 24, 2002, "Battle over Deciphering Gene Code Hasn't Died, Scientific Paper Says"; August 5, 2005, "Scientists See Big Potential in Tiny Marine Microbes."

Saturday Evening Post, January 1, 2000, Patrick Perry, "Craig Venter: At the Helm of the Genetic Revolution," p. 48; July 1, 2000, Cory SerVaas, "For Dr. Craig Venter, Discovery Can't Wait!," p. 39.

Science, June 21, 1991, Leslie Roberts, "Gambling on a Shortcut to Genome Sequencing," p. 1618; October 11, 1991, Leslie Roberts, "Genome Patent Fight Erupts," p. 184; June 2, 1995, Rachel Nowak, "Venter Wins Sequencing Race—Twice," p. 1272; February 25, 2000, Elizabeth Pennisi, "Fruit Fly Genome Yields Data and a Validation," p. 1374; March 24, 2000, Robert F. Service, "Can Celera Do It Again?," p. 2136; April 14, 2000, Eliot Marshall, "Claim and Counterclaim on the Human Genome," p. 242; June 30, 2000, Elizabeth Pennisi, "Finally, the Book of Life and Instructions for Navigating It," p. 2304; December 15, 2000, Eliot Marshall, "Storm Erupts over Terms for Publishing Celera's Sequence," p. 2042; February 16, 2001, Eliot Marshall, "Sharing the Glory, Not the Credit," p. 1189; February 16, 2001, Elizabeth Pennisi, "The Human Genome," p. 1177; May 3, 2002, Eliot Marshall, "Venter Is Back with Two New Institutes," p. 824; June 14, 2002, Elizabeth Pennisi, "TIGR's Chief," p. 1957; November 1, 2002, Rebecca Spieler Trager, "Venter's Next Goal: 1000 Human Genomes," p. 947; November 29, 2002, Eliot Marshall, "Venter Gets down to Life's Basics," p. 1701; February 14, 2003, Carl Zimmer, "Tinker, Tailor," p. 1006; August 29, 2003, Jennifer Couzin, "Sequencers Examine Priorities," p. 1176; November 21, 2003, Elizabeth Pennisi, "Venter Cooks up a Synthetic Genome in Record Time," p. 1307; June 4, 2004, Eliot Marshall, "TIGR Escapes Venter's Plan for Consolidation," p. 1426.

Science & Government Report, February 1, 2001, "Nonprofit Paychecks," p. 5; August 15, 2002, "Craig Venter's New Quest," p. 1.

Science News, September 8, 2007, B. Vastag, "The Venter Decryption: Biologist Decodes His Own Genome," p. 147; January 5, 2008, review of A Life Decoded, p. 15.

Scientist, August 21, 2000, Douglas Steinberg, "Venter Reveals Sequels to Sequencing," p. 17; November 26, 2001, Ricky Lewis, "A Personal View of Genomics," p. 10; April 12, 2004, Aileen Constans, "Mining for Microbial Community Insights," p. 37; April 26, 2004, Christine Bahls, "J. Craig Venter," p. 16; August 29, 2005, Stephen Pincock, "Venter Buys History," p. 12.

Technology Review, April 1, 2003, Alexandra M. Goho, "Life Made to Order: Scientists Are Taking Genetic Engineering to the Extreme, Creating New Genomes from Scratch. The Result Could Be Artificial Life Forms Designed to Churn out Novel Drugs or Turn Pollution into Energy," p. 50.

Time, June 29, 1998, Leon Jaroff, "Venter's Bold Venture: A Biologist's Rush to Map Human DNA Stirs Fears That He Could Become the Bill Gates of Biotech," p. 51; January 11, 1999, Dick Thompson, "Gene Maverick: Craig Venter Is a Man in a Hurry, and Now All the Genome Mappers Are Operating on Venter Time," p. 54; April 17, 2000, "Victory for Venter: His Outfit Sequences Our Genome—but It Will Take Years to Decode," p. 71; July 3, 2000, "The Race Is Over: The Great Genome Quest Is Officially a Tie, Thanks to a Round of Pizza Diplomacy," p. 18; December 25, 2000, "Gene Mapper: The Bad Boy of Science Has Jump-started a Biological Revolution," p. 110; June 20, 2005, Michael D. Lemonick, "Mother Nature's DNA," p. 56; February 4, 2008, Alice Park, "Man Makes Life," p. 44.

U.S. News & World Report, October 31, 2005, Jamie Shreeve, "The Blueprint of Life," p. 70; September 11, 2007, Katherine Leitzell, "Craig Venter Discusses His Genome"; November 5, 2007, Katherine Leitzell, "Mapping a Genome and a Life," p. 30.

USA Today, November 14, 2003, "Scientists Create a Virus That Reproduces," p. 5.

Washington Business Journal, June 22, 2001, "Craig Venter," p. 56.

Washington Techway, November 27, 2000, "Venter at the Starting Line," p. 55; January 15, 2001, Anne Usher, "The Swashbuckling Scientist," p. 40; May 13, 2002, Rob Terry, "Life after Venter," p. 20.


Edge, (July 15, 2008), author profile.

Harvard University Web site, (February 29, 2008), author profile.

J. Craig Venter Institute Web site, (July 15, 2008), author profile.