Craig Venter reclines in his chair, puts his feet up on his desk and – gently stroking his milk chocolate-coloured miniature poodle, Darwin, asleep in his arms – shares his vision of the household appliance of the future. It is a box attached to a computer that would receive DNA sequences over the internet to synthesise proteins, viruses and even living cells.
After high school Venter joined the U.S. Naval Medical Corps and served in the Vietnam War. On returning to the U.S., he earned a B.A. inbiochemistry (1972) and then a doctorate in physiology and pharmacology (1975) at theUniversity of California, San Diego. In 1976 he joined the faculty of the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he was involved in neurochemistry research. In 1984 Venter moved to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in Bethesda, Md., and began studyinggenes involved in signal transmission between neurons.While at the NIH, Venter became frustrated with traditional methods of gene identification, which were slow and time-consuming. He developed an alternative technique usingexpressed sequence tags (ESTs), small segments of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) found in expressed genes that are used as “tags” to identify unknown genes in other organisms,cells, or tissues.