J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., founder, president and chairman of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), has been named a recipient of this year's National Medal of Science. Dr. Venter will be awarded the Medal from President Obama on October 7 at a White House ceremony.
The National Medal of Science, the highest honor awarded to scientists by the United States government, was created by statute in 1959 and is administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation. Awarded annually, the Medal recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering. Nominees are selected by a committee of Presidential appointees based on their advanced knowledge in, and contributions to, the biological, behavioral/social, and physical sciences, as well as chemistry, engineering, computing, and mathematics.
According to the official citation, Dr. Venter is being recognized for his dedication to the advancement of the science of genomics, his contributions to the understanding of its implications for society, and his commitment to the clear communication of information to the scientific community, the public, and policymakers.
Dr. Venter and his teams have been continuous pioneers in the field of genomics. Beginning in the late 1980's they were the first to successfully use new automated DNA sequencers to sequence human genes. They then used these same technologies to develop and publish in 1991 Expressed Sequence Tags (ESTs), Dr. Venter's new method to rapidly discover human genes. Since then more than 65 million EST's have been generated by the scientific community from a broad range of species.
In 1995 he and his team sequenced the first full genome of a free living organism, the bacteria Haemophilus influenzae, by a new method they developed called "whole genome shotgun sequencing". This first genome led to the rapid and accurate decoding of hundreds of important genomes including human viral and bacterial pathogens, environmental microbes, insect, plant and mammalian genomes. More than 95% of genomes sequenced have been done using Dr Venter's methods. Only five years after developing this new method, Dr Venter's team announced the first draft human genome in 2000. They continued their work on sequencing and analyzing the human genome and published the first complete diploid genome in 2007.
Dr. Venter has since applied these same DNA sequencing approaches to catalogue the genomes of the microbes living in a variety of environments. The Venter Institute's Sorcerer II Expedition has discovered more than 20 million new genes from microbes in the world's oceans. Other environments including the human gut, mouth and skin are yielding similarly important new insights into the microbes inhabiting the human body. These research projects helped to begin the new fields known as environmental genomics and metagenomics.
Dr. Venter and colleagues also pioneered the new field of synthetic genomics and are trying to create the first world's first synthetic cell.
In addition to his work and leadership at the Venter Institute, Dr. Venter is also founder and CEO of Synthetic Genomics Inc, a privately held company applying genomic-driven solutions to address a variety for global challenges starting first with energy and the environment. Dr. Venter is the author of more than 250 major research articles and is among the most cited scientists in the world. He is also the recipient of numerous honorary degrees, scientific awards and a member of many prestigious scientific organizations including the National Academy of Sciences.