Craig Venter craig venter

In January 2002 J. Craig Venter retired from Celera Genomics, a company he cofounded in 1998 to decode and exploit knowledge of the human genome, or genetic code. Celera supported a controversial attempt to harness genetic research to business. At the same time Venter and the Perkin Elkin Corporation (now Applera Corporation) created Celera, Venter jump-started the race to map the genome by publicly announcing that he, working at a private company, could successfully unravel the biological puzzle in three years. Challenging the government-sponsored National Institute of Health, Celera and its rival ultimately completed the sequence at almost exactly the same moment. "Most historians will look back on this project as the most important thing we did in science at the turn of the century," predicts Venter's competitor, Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institute of Health.

Although public and private laboratories ultimately reached their goal virtually simultaneously and were jointly honored in June 2000, Venter promised a less time- and labor-intensive method. Only the future can say whether Venter's approach will provide reliable benefits. For the time being, Celera has failed to profit as much as anticipated from its role in the decoding of the genome; much of the information it might have restricted has been released free of charge by the government. But Venter's demand for a cost-effective approach to conducting research may indeed have long-reaching consequences, as the race to identify the genetic sequence raises the ethical question: can anyone really own basic information about human identity?