J. Craig Venter is the scientist whose startup beat the government-funded Human Genome Project to mapping a single person's entire DNA. Whose DNA? Duh, Venter's! On the last morning of the Web 2.0 Summit, Venter brought the audience up to date on the faster-than-Moore's-Law advances in reading and writing genes.
Some factoids from his chat with host Tim O'Reilly:
- In 2001, when Venter's team first mapped his complete genome, they presumed that our individual DNA codes would be almost entirely identical. Since then they've found humans vary by a couple of percentage points.
- Venter's current top project is to map the DNA of 10,000 more humans. He thinks the price will come down to under $100,000 per person in three years.
- You have more individual bacteria living in your body than you do human cells.
- A round-the-world survey ship found that in the world's oceans, DNA of the local life varies completely every 200 miles, and probably even more locally than that.
- Soldiers in Iraq eventually acquire a completely different set of bacteria in their mouths than they arrived with.
- Human DNA contains spliced-in codes for pathogens that have crept in over the ages.
- Venter worries that startups like DNA Direct and 23andMe will only check small subsections of their clients' DNA — say, to look for heart disease risk — and miss the big picture.
- Venter's green project: Looking for genetically engineered bacteria that will produce electricity from human waste or from host plants — also engineered — that thrive on currently unfarmable land.
Venter envisions a future where in addition to tracking your stocks and sports, you'll have an RSS feed for updates on the latest medical news tied to your specific DNA map. And Robert Scoble will claim to track the DNA of his closest 6,000 friends.
(Photo by AP/Matt Houston)