Craig Venter Speaks

On the way to this week’s World Economic Forum in Switzerland, 23andMe founders Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with geneticist Craig Venter, who made a name for himself by racing the federally-funded Human Genome Project to produce the first human genetic sequence.

That contest ended in a draw. Now, as president of the J. Craig Venter Research Institute, he’s involved in numerous projects that take advantage of the latest advances in genetic technology. Last year he published the first complete genome of a single individual — himself.

Venter spoke with Anne and Linda about what needs to happen next in order to realize the vision of personal genomics — a future in which physicians can tailor medical care based on a patient’s genetic constitution, and individuals can make lifestyle decisions based on the specific risks faced by a person of their genotype. Making that dream a reality will require many scientific advances. But just as importantly, it will require enormous amounts of raw data documenting the genetic differences between people.

Many different organizations, including both the J. Craig Venter Institute and 23andMe, are working on innovative ways to collect those data. Just this week, government-funded scientists in the United States, the United Kingdom and China announced the creation of a consortium that will sequence the complete genomes of 200 individuals and the exons, or protein-coding regions, of 800 more.