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.
(Photo by AP/Matt Houston)