A Life Decoded

A Life Decoded

My Genome: My Life

Viking, 2007 more...

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


J. Craig Venter claims to be one of the “leading scientists of the 21st century” – and he is right. Venter is a brilliant visionary and pioneer in genomic research. He was first to decode the full DNA of a living organism, the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae. Subsequently, Venter moved up significantly in scientific class by completing the DNA sequence of the human genome. Feverishly ambitious, he is now researching ocean genomes in hopes of finding new fuel sources and of becoming the first scientist to create artificial life. Venter does nothing by halves, hence his designation by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. Yet, in scientific circles, he has also earned some disdain as an egotistical “wild man of biotech.” Many scientists see his use of his own DNA in the human genome project as a shocking lack of scientific decorum. He comes across, in his own words, as narcissistic. This self-absorption, and his pervasive portrayal of himself as an altruistic purist constantly battling bureaucratic philistines, interferes with his story about how he cracked the human genome code. Clearly, it’s not easy being a genius, but it sure is interesting, and so getAbstract recommends Venter’s account of his scientific achievements to anyone interested in science and strong personalities.


A Quick Rise to the Top

As a young student in San Francisco during the 1950s and 1960s, J. Craig Venter was nobody special. His grades were average and sometimes below par. He foiled his Army draft notice by joining the US Navy, where he became a medical corpsman. He served a tour of duty in Vietnam working in an intensive care ward in Da Nang. He experienced the injection of adrenaline directly into the hearts of severely wounded servicemen, and sometimes even massaged their hearts to keep them alive. Back home, he enrolled at the College of San Mateo to become a doctor. He soon decided to become a scientist instead and transferred to the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), to study biochemistry. Venter did exceptionally well at UCSD. Eventually, he became an expert on adrenaline and its effects on the body. He graduated in 1972 and worked at the college while studying for his doctorate, which he received in 1975. He continued to study adrenaline receptors as head of a research lab at the University of Buffalo. In 1983, he was appointed to the prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland.

At the National Institutes of Health


About the Author

J. Craig Venter is a leading scientist and a pioneer in genomic research. He is president of the J. Craig Venter Institute, a multidisciplinary, genomic-focused research facility.

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