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The self-aggrandization prize goes to Craig Venter

Science: I’m the human genome, says ‘Darth Venter’ of genetics (Observer).

Craig Venter, the controversial geneticist who led private industry’s decoding of the human genome, has revealed a startling secret. The genome – unravelled two years ago – is his.

To the surprise of scientists, Venter has admitted that much of the DNA used by his company, Celera Genomics, as part of this decoding effort came from his cells. The news has annoyed his colleagues, who claim that Venter subverted the careful, anonymous selection process they had established for their DNA donors.

I missed this story when it came out, but it’s a biggie. Instead of mapping the genome of a scientifically-chosen representative, we have the genome of an egomaniac CEO, who spent the entire project self-aggrandizing and attention-seeking.

Just as well the publicly-funded, international Human Genome Project was around to keep them honest for the most part…

Some more choice quotes:

‘It doesn’t surprise me. It sounds like Craig,’ said Nobel laureate James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA.

As to his reasons for his actions, Venter was unequivocal. ‘How could one not want to know about one’s own genome?’ he said. Neither was he fazed about accusations of egocentricity. ‘I’ve been accused of that so many times, I’ve got over it,’ he said.

Celera’s science board was not so understanding. ‘Any genome intended to be a landmark should be kept anonymous. It should be a map of all of us, not of one, and I am disappointed if it is linked to a person,’ said board member Arthur Caplan.

He added that the drive to sequence the human genome was an opportunity for personal glory as well as scientific discovery. Venter’s action emphasised the first motive.