COLD SPRING HARBOR, NY, May 7 - Loving to hate Craig Venter is still a gentle contact sport.
More than one year after Celera Genomics and the Human Genome Project published their respective human-genome drafts, Venter, who last week unveiled a pair of nonprofit foundations to study genomics, was again a helpful prop for speakers angling for a laugh.
This time it was Jane Rogers from the UK's Sanger Centre, who found an opening during her brief chat that opened Cold Spring Harbor Lab's 2002 Genome Sequencing & Biology meeting here tonight. In a PowerPoint slide show that updated attendees on the state of the human genome sequence (it's still not finished), Rogers, who helped organize the meeting, flashed a couple of slides depicting Francis Collins with former US President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Beside Collins in the Clinton photo was a handful of colleagues. Unseen in the photo, though, was Venter's smiling mug. In one of the front rows of the auditorium in which the meeting's plenary sessions are held was a man who quietly said, "Something's missing." His companion could be seen rolling her eyes.
A minute later, Rogers flashed another slide, this one that depicted the cover of the Science issue that ran Celera's sequence. Saying that the company's draft was "truly a personalized genome," she clicked and Venter's face appeared in the upper right-hand corner of the cover. Laughter quickly drowned out the speaker, but she recovered.
To be fair, this could have been seen as belated revenge. When he spoke at the University of Pennsylvania in early March, Venter showed similar slides and told the audience it should know who the fellow to the right of Clinton is (it was Venter). The fellow on the president's left "who looks like he's about to throw up," he said, pausing for laughter, "is Francis Collins."