Profile: An Express Route to the Genome?; August 1998; Scientific American Magazine; by Beardsley; 3 Page(s)
Jcraig Venter, the voluble director of the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville, Md., is much in demand these days. A tireless self-promoter, Venter set off shock waves in the world of human genetics in May by announcing, via the front page of the New York Times, a privately funded $300-million, threeyear initiative to determine the sequence of almost all the three billion chemical units that make up human DNA, otherwise known as the genome. The claim prompted incredulous responses from mainstream scientists engaged in the international Human Genome Project, which was started in 1990 and aims to learn the complete sequence by 2005. This publicly funded effort would cost about 10 times as much as Venter¿s scheme. But Venter¿s credentials mean that genome scientists have to take his plan seriously.
In 1995 Venter surprised geneticists by publishing the first complete DNA sequence of a free-living organism, the bacterium Haemophilus in- fluenzae, which can cause meningitis and deafness. This achievement made use of a then novel technique known as whole-genome shotgun cloning and "changed all the concepts" in the field, Venter declares: "You could see the power of having 100 percent of every gene. It¿s going to be the future of biology and medicine and our species." He followed up over the next two and a half years with complete or partial DNA sequences of several more microbes, including agents that cause Lyme disease, stomach ulcers and malaria.