Unmasking the secret of life

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 05 October 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:736

In the week in which the genomes of the malaria mosquito and parasite were published, Craig Venter tells Geoff Watts that he can foresee the day when we will be able to create an artificial life form

“Some people lead by pushing others in front of them. I learned that in Vietnam. But the real leaders lead. They take the risk.” What Craig Venter discovered as a member of the medical corps in Vietnam he has since applied in science—as leader of the US biotechnology company Celera Genomics, the commercial side of the race to sequence the human genome. Genomics is an enterprise in which Venter is rarely anywhere but the front. Viewed through his eyes, all technical hurdles shrink; horizons rush closer at dizzying speed.

The question that prompted his view of leadership was not in fact a technical but an ethical one. How does he respond to claims that he was wrong to reveal his own DNA as having been among the five samples used by Celera in its genome sequencing? He is unrepentant. The publicity, he says, is helping to overcome people's misconceptions about what genes can actually do.

“There seems to be a deterministic way of thinking about genes, both in the United …

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