2002-08-15 17:01:01 -0400
By Maggie Fox
Genome mogul Craig Venter announced he was back in business on Thursday with a new, not-for-profit venture aimed at a faster, better and cheaper approach to mapping DNA.
Venter, who in January left the top position at the genome company he helped found, Celera Genomics, said he was helping set up a nonprofit center equipped with the latest equipment to sequence genomes as quickly as possible.
"This will be bigger than existing centers," Venter said in a telephone interview.
Celera was the best-known private company trying to make money off genome sequencing, and Venter left as Celera changed its business model to concentrate more on developing drugs.
His new effort will combine work from The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland, as well as two groups set up with Venter cash --the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives and The Center for the Advancement of Genomics.
It will be bankrolled initially by the J. Craig Venter Science Foundation, set up with some of the profits Venter made in earlier initiatives, including the founding of the now-rival Human Genome Sciences Inc.
"We decided to just expand what TIGR was doing plus our two other institutions into a new mega-center nearby the TIGR campuses," Venter said. "The need for sequencing all the way around is increasing quite substantially."
Steven Salzberg, director of bioinformatics at TIGR, said the new venture could transform the science of genomics.
"We really would like to sequence every strain of every infectious disease that is known to man," Salzberg said in a telephone interview. This could help science deal with the threat of drug-resistant bacteria, for example.
Venter became known internationally after he backed a new approach to sequencing genomes known as all-genome shotgun sequencing. The method speeds up the painstaking process of mapping an organism's collection of DNA by blasting it all apart and then fitting it back together.
It was controversial, but it worked, and Celera raced publicly funded researchers who had been working at it much longer to finish the first sequence of the human genome.
He was helped to a large degree by new sequencing machines made by a sister company, now Applied Biosystems, as well as powerful banks of computers.
JUST THE BEGINNING
Now Venter wants to find even faster methods.
"A lot of people have been under the impression that sequencing is over now that we have sequenced the human genome. For me it is just beginning," Venter said.
To help find the causes of disease, to tailor-make new medicines and to predict a person's risk of disease will all require that many different people have their genomes sequenced -- as opposed to the current published genomes that are compilations of a few volunteers.
"I want to help individuals understand their genetic code and what it means and doesn't mean," he said. "That means it has to get a whole lot faster and a whole lot cheaper."
As always, Venter is confident.
"If we are successful even in the first year, we can do 10 genomes for what the public spent on the mouse genome," he said -- guessing that sequencing the mouse genome, the first step of which was finished earlier this year, cost $100 million.
"I think within a year we should be able to do mammalian genomes for less than $10 million," he predicted.
Applied Biosystems has some equipment that the new venture will look
at, as does U.S. Genomics, which is based in Woburn, Massachusetts. "We
are trying to work with an all-new menu and all new inventors," Venter
Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited