After 3 months of rare silence, genome scientist J. Craig Venter is back on the air. Venter, who resigned in January as president of Celera Genomics of Rockville, Maryland, as the company was shifting gears into drug development (ScienceNOW, 22 January), announced on 30 April that he plans to establish two institutes that will focus on ethics, clean energy, and the environment. Venter also made headlines last week by confirming a persistent rumor about Celera's research: "Three-fifths" of the human genome the company sequenced and published in 2001, he said, is his own.
The J. Craig Venter Science Foundation will be the financial and legal umbrella for three nonprofit organizations whose boards he will chair. One is already well established: The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), a sequencing and gene analysis operation presided over by Venter's wife, microbiologist Claire Fraser. TIGR's two new siblings will be a think tank called the TIGR Center for the Advancement of Genomics (TCAG) and a research institute called the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives (IBEA). All three will share TIGR's current endowment, worth an estimated $140 million, according to Venter. The fund was established with stocks Venter received from Celera and from an earlier partnership with Human Genome Sciences of Rockville.
The new genomics center will take up four topics: risks of discrimination and a mistaken public emphasis on "genetic determinism"; fallacies about race; genetics and medicine; and stem cell biology. Congressional efforts to "criminalize" scientific research by banning some cloning and embryonic stem cell studies are "unprecedented" and deserve much wider comment, Venter says. The center will have a staff of 20 to 30 people and support up to 30 scientists visiting for periods of 3 to 12 months. IBEA researchers, meanwhile, will explore microbial genomics to look for solutions to environmental problems, for example, by degrading toxic chemicals and sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Ari Patrinos, head of biological and environmental research in the Department of Energy's science office, says "if [Venter's] record is any indication, we expect big things from him again."
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