A Life Decoded: My Genome: My Life
The triumphant true story of the man who achieved one of the greatest feats of our era—the mapping of the human genome
Growing up in California, Craig Venter didn’t appear to have much of a future. An unremarkable student, he nearly flunked out of high school. After being drafted into the army, he enlisted in the navy and went to Vietnam, where the life and death struggles he encountered as a medic piqued his interest in science and medicine. After pursuing his advanced degrees, Venter quickly established himself as a brilliant and outspoken scientist. In 1984 he joined the National Institutes of Health, where he introduced novel techniques for rapid gene discovery, and left in 1991 to form his own nonprofit genomics research center, where he sequenced the first genome in history in 1995. In 1998 he announced that he would successfully sequence the human genome years earlier, and for far less money, than the government-sponsored Human Genome Project would— a prediction he kept in 2001.
A Life Decoded is the triumphant story of one of the most fascinating and controversial figures in science today. In his riveting and inspiring account Venter tells of the unparalleled drama of the quest for the human genome, a tale that involves as much politics (personal and political) as science. He also reveals how he went on to be the first to read and interpret his own genome and what it will mean for all of us to do the same. He describes his recent sailing expedition to sequence microbial life in the ocean, as well as his groundbreaking attempt to create synthetic life. Here is one of the key scientific chronicles of our lifetime, as told by the man who beat the odds to make it happen.
About the Author
J. Craig Venter is one of the leading scientists of the twenty-first century. A pioneer in the world of genomic research, he is recognized for his visionary contributions to the field. In February 2001, Venter published the completed sequence of the human genome. He is the founder and president of the J. Craig Venter Institute.
Bigger than life, October 27, 2007
Having read The Genome War, I had preordered Venter’s own story. I was not disappointed. The Publisher’s Weekly review sniffs that it is "clumsily written." I would attribute that opinion to one of two possibilities. Either the reviewer never got beyond the early chapters about his childhood, which are marred by cliche and some amateurish prose, or the reviewer does not know enough biology to understand the rest. Once past the early biography, the rest of the book is riveting. I would warn those considering it that a reasonable knowledge of biology and genetics is almost a requirement to enjoy the story. I teach medical students and have studied molecular biology (unknown when I was a medical student) and it taxed my knowledge to the limit to understand his accomplishments. Still, the book reminds me a bit of "Science Fictions," the account of the discovery of the AIDS virus, which pulled no punches in naming villains and fakers. Venter is settling a few scores but, having read the other book, I am inclined to accept his version of the story. Biology research is not beanbag, to paraphase an old aphorism, especially when the stakes are high. There are titanic egos in this story, not just that of the author. If you like biology and genetics and want to read about the biggest big game hunt in biological science history, this is a good place to start.
The best part of the story begins as he returns from Vietnam, a near failure in high school, now stimulated by his experiences as a corpsman to study and go to medical school. He has married a New Zealand girl he met on R&R in Australia. They both go to UCSD once they have mastered junior college. Here he becomes interested in biochemistry, then cell biology. He is the beneficiary of the interest of a noted cell biologist who likes his story and encourages him to do research. Eventually, this leads to a PhD only seven years after his return from the war. He goes on to a medical school faculty position, gradually building his research credentials until he is invited to join the NIH.
He tells the story of his research into the nature of the adrenaline receptor, the link that allows the hormone to stimulate the heart to beat faster and more powerfully. From there, he begins to study the genetics of the receptor. From there, he climbs the path to world fame and meets some nasty surprises in fellow scientists whose personal ambition cancels their devotion to science. I highly recommend this book to those with some background in biology and genetics. He tries to simplify for a broader audience but the subject is still complex. I read the book in two days, actually taking longer than I might with another non-fiction book because it requires concentration and some rereading to understand the details. The science, not the author, is the hero here and it takes some time to understand it all.
Excellent book about an excellent role model for our society, December 16, 2007
The man is a genius but the book tells us all how we can follow our interests and accomplish the best life has to offer.
Read this book!!
Joseph F. Nowoslawski, M.D.