Admired and controversial: gene pioneer Craig Venter
First Craig Venter deciphered the human genome, then he created the first bacterium with an artificial genome. But the American gene pioneer has always been controversial. A portrait.
Craig Venter has never been known for modesty. “I think this is much more important than walking on the moon,” the US scientist, who celebrated his 75th birthday on 14 October 2021, once said about what was probably his greatest achievement: decoding the human genome. In 1999, he challenged an international team of researchers who had been working on it for a long time. After only 15 months, he achieved the goal at about the same time as the government-funded Human Genome Project – as if “on steroids and cocaine”.
Narcissism and megalomania
The action made the dazzling researcher world-famous – but also deeply controversial. Afterwards, he and his team kept announcing new discoveries and projects at a dizzying pace. A bacterium with an artificial genome, for example, to save the world from a climate catastrophe and to open up new energy sources. Or the decoding of the genome of tens of thousands of people per year to have a huge database for research.
Many colleagues accuse Venter of megalomania and narcissism. But the scientist has also received many prizes and proved several times that he can accomplish the seemingly impossible.
Born in 1946, the researcher was a poor student and barely managed to graduate. Instead of going to college, he went to the Pacific and surfed. After the Vietnam War, he finally studied medicine and earned his doctorate.