The arrogant adventurer

David Ewing-Duncan in The Guardian:

Reflections_venterWhat would it be like to know all the details of your own personal programming, every A, C, T and G that swirls along the long, sinewy strands of your own double helix? J Craig Venter knows.

He became the first life form on Earth to possess this self-knowledge when in April 2002 he confirmed what many had already suspected: that the human genome sequenced by Venter’s former company, Celera, largely comprised Venter’s own DNA. An act of supreme ego, it flouted one of the prime directives of modern science: that a healthy ambition is fine, even desirable, but only if a person doesn’t tout his own greatness and shows the proper awe and sensibility about the scientific enterprise.

No matter what people think of Craig Venter, he shook things up mightily during the race to sequence the human genome. He had, and continues to have, outrageous ideas that the scientific establishment frequently proclaims are unworkable. Yet Venter has succeeded, drawing on a potent arrogance and self-confidence that have transformed this previously obscure researcher into possibly the best-known molecular biologist in the world after Watson and Crick.

More here.