J. Craig Venter
2001 Common Wealth Award
Biochemist, entrepreneur and gene pioneer J. Craig Venter is CEO of Celera Genomics. He earned the grudging respect of even his most outspoken critics last year when Celera announced its success in deciphering virtually all of the human genome. Competition with Venter's group spurred the federally financed Human Genome Project to accelerate its efforts. Project leader Francis Collins joined Venter at the White House last year to announce that they, too, had substantially cracked the DNA code years ahead of schedule. Venter credits his experience as a hospital corpsman in Vietnam with spurring an interest in medicine that developed into a passion for research. After earning a doctoral degree, he taught briefly before joining the National Institutes of Health in 1984 as chief of the section of receptor biochemistry. His first significant contribution to gene research came in the 1980s with the invention of the rapid EST method of gene discovery. Venter left NIH in 1992 to start the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), where he developed the "whole genome shotgun sequencing" technique that allowed him to map the first complete genome of a living organism. This same shotgun technique, along with high-speed DNA sequencers and unparalleled supercomputing facility and proprietary algorithms, was used to sequence and assemble human DNA quickly and accurately.