Craig Venter: Designing life

Some regard him as the most important scientist since Darwin. But he himself is only a little more modest. For the first time now, he can actually design life in a computer, make the DNA software, and create new life forms that have never existed before.

He cracked the genetic code using himself as a guinea pig, he created artificial life and he's been compared to God... and even to Hitler. Now he heads teams of scientists on a vital mission.

At the J. Craig Venter institute, near San Diego, teams of scientists are building on the original mapping of the genome. The information in our genes covers every aspect of our body, from eye color to susceptibility to disease.

Mapping those genes and identifying individual functions should one day enable doctors and scientists to develop drugs and procedures to target problematic genes. From cancer to global warming, to fuel and food supply, the Venter institute may offer the world a new hope. But Craig Venter leads from the front. When he mapped the human genome it was his own genome.

Ever since he was young, Craig Venter has been changing the outcome of his life. At school a brilliant mind, hid behind a rebellious nature. Unimpressive in the classroom, Craig joined California's beach bums, spending his days surfing the waves and impressing the girls. This was the 1960, but his hedonistic lifestyle was about to end. The United States was at war, and at the age of just 20 Craig Venter was called out.

Hooked on science and discovery, but still ready to fight the system, Craig Venter headed for the world of genetics. It was a branch of science which had only really taken off in 1953 when Oxford scientists Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the molecular structure of DNA. The research had taken many years, but Craig Venter was determined that the race to map the human genome should become a sprint, rather than a marathon.

He's a scientific superstar, and now he plans to save the world. Craig Venter's map of the human genome could potentially improve millions of lives and Craig's team is now attempting to transform the stuff of science-fiction into science-fact by creating life in a laboratory.

It has been the stuff of science-fiction to bring the spark of life to inanimate chemical but in the year 2010 Craig Venter once again hit the headlines with a startling new announcement for the world. At the J. Craig Venter institute, near San Diego, Craig's work on synthetic life is now racing ahead.

Exciting to some maybe, but terrifying to others, Craig's vision for the future has led to some fierce criticism. Health benefits are universally good news, but some of the world's senior political figures strongly disagree with Craig about the Earth's build up of greenhouse gasses. But the inter-governmental panel on climate change, the IPCC, backs up Craig's view that the climate change is real and man-made.

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