Monday, December 10, 2007

Venter Interview in SD Union Tribune

There's an interesting interview with Craig Venter in the San Diego Union Tribune. In the interview, the sequencing maven reflects on being a scientist. There's a lot of things about Venter that I didn't know, such as his having served as a medic in Vietnam.

Venter writes, "I was feeling lucky, that I had escaped with my life. I had seen so much death, 19-and 20-year-old boys maimed and killed, that I felt I had been given a second chance to do something with my life."

Perhaps this is why he has little patience for roadblocks and is often described as a "maverick".

Venter is, of course, one of two humans to have their entire genome sequenced (Jim Watson is the other). Celera Genomic's race with the National Human Genome Research Institute is the stuff of legend. Venter's company sequenced the genome for far less money than the government, and accomplished it in approximately the same amount of time.

However, Venter seems disappointed with the progress made since the human genome was published.

"I think it's because we're dealing with humans, and that paralyzes things. The government, which has the deepest resources, is increasingly unwilling to fund research if it involves human genetics. Government research is becoming irrelevant. Instead, the work is being left to private groups who have less money and maybe conflicting agendas."

Venter also expressed disappointment with the state of science in America when questioned about the anti-evolution stances of some presidential candidates (Brownback, Huckabee, Tancredo) and reports of another (Kucinich) to have seen a UFO.

"I saw those debates. It's a disturbing phenomenon. People simply aren't making decisions based on evidence. I don't object to people believing in God, but our thinking has to adjust to new facts and discoveries about the universe. We're past the age of Galileo. As a modern society, we are now 100 percent dependent upon science. It's not optional."

It's a sobering interview. Venter sees that "We're at a critical juncture in human existence. I just hope we haven't screwed things up so much that there's no real chance for the future."

I agree. The evidence is out there. Do we have the courage to take off the blinders and see the world as it really is?

Hat tip to Moselio Schaechter.


  1. I found the whole autobiography that the interview is plugging to an interesting read (because I work at JCVI does that make me a fanboy or something?). Although I think if he ever asks me to go sailing with him, I'll decline.

  2. Yeah, I agree, but not because it is CV, but rather any time I consider sailing in the open ocean, I hear in my head, "Five passengers set sail that day, for a three hour tour,
    a three hour tour..."