NEW YORK, April 30 - The scientist whom critics assailed for profiteering from human genome data will spend some of that profit to help ordinary people get a bird's eye view of the way genomic data may influence their lives.
Three months after being asked to give up the helm of Celera Genomics, Craig Venter has created a pair of nonprofit think tanks that aim at educating individuals, especially legislators, about the potential rewards and risks behind the human genome.
Venter, who turned 55 in October, said he will use the stock and clout collected during his terms at The Institute for Genomic Research, Human Genome Sciences, and Celera as seed money for the foundations, which he will run.
(To read GenomeWeb's interview with Venter from earlier today, click here.)
The first foundation, the TIGR Center for the Advancement of Genomics, will for example seek to combat genetic discrimination and study ways that biological data might counter global warming and bolster agriculture.
The second foundation, the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives, will look to biology for solutions to, say, global warming. For example, the facility will study oceanic microbes and their genomes to help researchers develop better ways to produce energy.
Meantime, a third nonprofit, humbly called the J. Craig Venter Science Foundation, will provide administrative support for the previous two groups and TIGR. It will also coordinate policy and research activities between TCAG, IBEA, and TIGR.
To be sure, Venter, who will continue to chair TIGR's board of trustees, hinted at his post-Celera goals in a number of moments since he stepped down in January. And his interest in environmental issues, and especially the sea, was reflected in a recent GenomeWeb report about a new genomics center that the Scripps Institute of Oceanography is launching.
According to Charles Kennel, director of the San Diego-based SIO, Venter helped convince him that the institute, one the country's foremost oceanographic centers, should get its feet wet with genomic research.
"We needed a way of taking the marine science and connecting it to the rest of [University of California San Diego], the La Jolla [biotech] community, and biology in general," Kennel told GenomeWeb.
So Venter, an avid sailor and graduate of the University of California, San Diego, "came by and talked to our scientists, and we started thinking more seriously about genomic techniques," Kennel said. "I realized [that] we had a first-class collection of marine microbiologists on staff. In particular, we had some very fine organismic biologists."
Through his foundations, though, Venter has also stuck a finger in the eyes of detractors who said he was too obsessed about financial reward to worry about good science, let alone ethics. Industry insiders may now be asking where their foundations are.