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On the outs

UCSD alumnus and part-time La Jollan Craig Venter, famous for his race with the federally sponsored Human Genome Project to decode the human genome back in the 1990s, is also well known for making more than a few enemies along the way. Chief among them is Eric Lander, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, who sequenced nearly a third of the genome at his Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research lab in Cambridge during the public project’s battle with Venter’s Celera Genomics, Inc.

“Celera did not independently produce a sequence of the genome at all. It rode piggyback,” Lander claimed in an email published by the New York Times in May 2001, a year after President Bill Clinton negotiated a face-saving truce for both sides. “We think there is zero legitimacy to anything Eric is saying,” Venter told the paper. Venter ramped up the rhetoric in his 2007 autobiography, referring to Lander, a world-renowned molecular biologist, as “Eric Slander.”

Now Venter, who is seeking money to build a West Coast headquarters of his research foundation on an ocean-view promontory at UCSD, will have to deal with a new face in Washington. Late last month, President-elect Barack Obama nominated Lander to be cochairman of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a key policy-making body that in past administrations has played a big role setting federal-funding priorities.

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UCSD alumnus and part-time La Jollan Craig Venter, famous for his race with the federally sponsored Human Genome Project to decode the human genome back in the 1990s, is also well known for making more than a few enemies along the way. Chief among them is Eric Lander, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, who sequenced nearly a third of the genome at his Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research lab in Cambridge during the public project’s battle with Venter’s Celera Genomics, Inc.

“Celera did not independently produce a sequence of the genome at all. It rode piggyback,” Lander claimed in an email published by the New York Times in May 2001, a year after President Bill Clinton negotiated a face-saving truce for both sides. “We think there is zero legitimacy to anything Eric is saying,” Venter told the paper. Venter ramped up the rhetoric in his 2007 autobiography, referring to Lander, a world-renowned molecular biologist, as “Eric Slander.”

Now Venter, who is seeking money to build a West Coast headquarters of his research foundation on an ocean-view promontory at UCSD, will have to deal with a new face in Washington. Late last month, President-elect Barack Obama nominated Lander to be cochairman of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a key policy-making body that in past administrations has played a big role setting federal-funding priorities.

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There couldn't have been a better pick for the PCAST team. Lander is in science for the good of the public, and venter was in it to make a buck. Trying to resurrect a faded rivalry is just silly. While JCVI is a well respected institution, it can't hold a candle to what the Broad has become.

Jan. 8, 2009

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