Oilgae Club - an Online Community for Algae Fuel Enthusiasts Worldwide.

Craig Venter's methods 9

I just read a Newyork times article and I thought why shouldnt you guys also take a look at it.Its about Dr Craig Venter, of SGI and am sure all of you want to hear more about the progress made by him for Exxon Mobil.This article is more about him.
Dr. Venter, now 63, made his name as a gene hunter. He was co-founder of a company, Celera Genomics, that nearly left the federally funded Human Genome Project in the dust in the race to determine the complete sequence of DNA in human chromosomes.
 He garnered admiration for some path-breaking ideas but also the enmity of some scientific rivals who viewed him as a publicity seeker who was polluting a scientific endeavor with commercialism.

Now Dr. Venter is turning from reading the genetic code to an even more audacious goal: writing it. At Synthetic Genomics, he wants to create living creatures ? bacteria, algae or even plants ? that are designed from the DNA up to carry out industrial tasks and displace the fuels and chemicals that are now made from fossil fuels.

'Designing and building synthetic cells will be the basis of a new industrial revolution,' Dr. Venter says. The goal is to replace the entire petrochemical industry.

His star power has attracted $110 million in investment so far, in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars in research financing, making Synthetic Genomics among the wealthiest companies in the new field known as synthetic biology.

 'If you think of an iconic, Steve Jobs character in the life sciences field, he comes to mind,' says Steve Jurvetson of the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, which invested in Synthetic Genomics.

But the path is long, with no guarantee of success. And as with DNA sequencing, Dr. Venter is stirring some unease in the synthetic biology field. Some competitors say designing entire cells is too far-fetched and that less flashy companies are ahead of Synthetic Genomics.

'I don?t know how many decades his funders have given him,' says Jay Keasling, co-founder of Amyris Inc., which is trying to produce biofuels and a malaria drug by modifying existing organisms, not by creating entirely new ones.

Moreover, Dr. Venter's track record as a businessman is mixed. While Celera succeeded in sequencing the human genome, it failed to make a business of selling the genomic data, and Dr. Venter was fired by the president of Celera?s parent company, with whom he had had many disagreements.

What really drives him, Dr. Venter and those close to him say, is the desire for scientific accomplishments, publications and recognition, and for the Nobel Prize that still eludes him. Business is just a means to a scientific end.

'Craig is just a hopeless businessman,' Alan G. Walton, a venture capitalist and a friend of Dr. Venter, says only half-jokingly.

Yet Dr. Venter has a history of defying skeptics, and many people are betting that he will succeed this time as well. Dr. Walton, in fact, invested personally in Synthetic Genomics, and his venture firm, Oxford Bioscience Partners, recently wanted to sink a hefty sum into the company but was turned down when Dr. Venter found other investors offering better terms.

Exxon Mobil is giving Synthetic Genomics $300 million in research financing to design algae that could be used to produce gasoline and diesel fuel. (The new greenhouse will be used for that research.)

BP has invested in the company itself, turning to Synthetic Genomics to study microbes that might help turn coal deposits into cleaner-burning natural gas. Another investor, the Malaysian conglomerate Genting, wants to improve oil output from its palm tree plantations, working toward what its chief executive calls a  gasoline tree.

And in a deal expected to be announced this week, the pharmaceutical giant Novartis will work with Dr. Venter to synthesize influenza virus strains as a potentially faster way to make flu vaccines.

Synthetic Genomics is also exploring the use of algae to produce food oils and, possibly, other edible products.

Dr. Venter muses, "What if we can make algae taste like beef?"

SCIENTISTS have long been able to insert foreign genes into organisms. Human insulin is manufactured for diabetics by bacteria containing the human insulin gene. Bacterial genes are put into corn plants to give them resistance to herbicides and insects.

But until now, genetic engineering has been mainly a process of cutting and pasting a gene from one organism to another. Only one or a few genes are spliced into a cell, and considerable trial and error is required before a gene functions properly in its new host.

Synthetic biology aims to allow more extensive changes, and in a more efficient and predictable way. That would make engineering a cell more like designing a bridge or a computer chip, enabling biologists to put prefabricated components together in different combinations.

Tue September 07 2010 05:15:35 AM by Shankar Craig venter  |  exxon mobile  |  sgi 2514 views

Comments - 7

  • Oceanfront wrote:
    Tue September 07 2010 10:05:47 AM

    "What if we can make algae taste like beef?"

    Morning Star foods did that. Well, they use soy.

    Anyhow, that statement is telling: How do we change things radically so we don't completely have to move to Mars, but without changing?

    Vote Up! 0 Vote Down! 0

  • Tue September 07 2010 11:31:55 PM

    Thanks for posting this blog.
    This is the first time, I am getting so much of information about Venter.
    also this is the first time, I am seeing the pictures of Craig Venter.

    Vote Up! 0 Vote Down! 0

  • Natalia wrote:
    Wed September 08 2010 12:13:20 AM

    At 63, he looks well preserved :-)

    Vote Up! 0 Vote Down! 0

  • Oceanfront wrote:
    Wed September 08 2010 02:32:34 AM

    I can't help but think that if CV's life were a movie, eyes would roll at how clumsy the screenwriter must be, dropping too-severe hints all over. "Don't do it Craig! Don't take that Exxon cheeeck!" I'd yell.

    I didn't know CV was in the algae racket. Criticisms toward him were just seemed bitter and unfouned his first time aroud with Celera. The guy is smart and likeable and you could tell that Celera's success was maybe because of his total straight line focus and broad, balanced perspective at the same time. For example he got painted like some rash showman, but if you listened he was anything but. He never bought that we act out some gene written fate; he was always conservative in explaining the actual complex and unknown role of genes in things like intelligence and abilities to impatient, underqualified science writers who bascially didn't want to hear it. Remember the undead "designer babies" articles of the late '90s?

    And the subject of human genes could attract a shady character with stunted motives. They're out there. But that wasn't CV at all. If he's a born entrepreneur then he does things that aren't getting done in order to do them. Great if the project is sequencing. In a way it's checking off tiny boxes as the game and the goal. But biofeul a different thing entirely where getting boxed in would appear to be the main hazard. Flexibility is absolutely necessary. And here he wants to limit his variables in the misplaced form of tiny algae cells? Inflexibility.

    He and his team deserve glory for the Celera success. But according to the every story ever told, you can't just come hot on the heels of your own legit success and expect to reach back over into the other world and hand out gold. All of us have to start the ride all over again, no matter how much you don't want to. I mean, you can try but you might come back with dust.*

    No I'm not privvy to what CV's been up to these past few years, but even flattering articles like these pass on clues not conscious to the writer. You see it sometimes. Ones like these lately have a lot.

    If biofeul is indeed a race, and even if Synthetic Genomics claimed a financial photofinish, I still wouldn't bother to look up if I were the little guy.

    * Monomyth

    Vote Up! 0 Vote Down! 0

  • Wed September 08 2010 02:41:30 AM


    You have aroused my interest to know more about this man than about his genes :-)
    If any of you have mo info on CV, pl do post tothe club.
    Thanks in advance.

    Vote Up! 0 Vote Down! 0

  • Duncan wrote:
    Wed September 08 2010 04:50:07 AM

    Hi CV Fans !

    Heres another article about him titled like

    Time for the Venter Bubble :-)
    Its pretty interesting though.

    Steve Levine has a nice style of writing.
    He has also referred to Andrew Pollock and Keasing and others. Over all a nice read.

    It's good to be J. Craig Venter right now. In May, Venter -- who you may recall from his entrepreneurial work in genomics research -- created a stir in scientific circles by creating the first cell with synthetic DNA; Exxon, meanwhile, has gone on the hook for up to $600 million in funding for Venter's ambitious synthetic algae fuel project. In a piece over the weekend, The New York Times' Andrew Pollack has added some James Dean brushstrokes to the portrait of this "scientific rebel." Shall we cut to the chase and start carving busts of the guy?

    There's no doubt that algae-based fuel is tantalizing -- unlike crops, trees, the sun and wind, algae starts out already half-comprised of hydrocarbons useable for bio-diesel, as Debora MacKenzie writes at New Scientist. That's why Silicon Valley, the Pentagon and serious oil companies are attempting to crack the code and scale up algae into a global transportation fuel. And if you ask the chin- and chest-out Venter, his own efforts are headed for tickertape-parade-type success: "Designing and building synthetic cells will be the basis of a new industrial revolution," he told Pollack. "The goal is to replace the entire petrochemical industry."

    Them's fighting words. However, I am intrigued by the doubts expressed by Jay Keasling, another member of the rock star scientist club examining the alternative fuel puzzle. "I don't know how many decades his funders have given him," Keasling says in the Pollack piece -- meaning, bluntly, that, in Keasling's view, the task that the 63-year-old Venter has set out for himself may exceed his time on Earth.

    Algae fuel is being made, and used, but expensively. Over the summer, EADS, the Paris-based aviation company, flew one engine in a small two-engine plane on algae fuel.

    As Siobhan Warner wrote in The Engineer, EADS had to scour the entire globe in order to round up enough performance-grade algae fuel for this single flight. Jean Botti, EADS chief technical officer, told Warner:

    I had to go all around the world to find the best guys that could deliver a good quality product that we could refine. This is why we had to fly a little airplane.

    I couldn't fly on a large Airbus aircraft with those algaes because I did not have enough quantity for all the testing and certification.

    More skepticism is aroused when one considers Exxon's full-throated public relations effort on behalf of its investment. One of the world's most conservative and secretive companies, Exxon generally releases data in such a manner not as a matter of course, but only when doing so serves a political purpose.

    In the weeks before Barack Obama took the oath of office in January 2009, for example, CEO Rex Tillerson -- dead certain like the rest of corporate America that cap-and-trade was coming -- sought to distance Exxon further from the negative attention it attracted for funding the global-warming-is-a-hoax movement; Tillerson told a packed room at the Wilson Center in Washington that Exxon was backing a form of carbon pricing: a carbon tax.

    About a month before that, Exxon took out a full-page ad in the New York Times touting its work to advance batteries and electric cars. And then we have its super high-profile venture with Venter.

    I will be interested to watch Exxon's PR activities now that the green movement is in retreat.

    Venter gets the Mick Jagger treatment because of his past as a genomic guru. For some insight into why and how that translates over into the algae world, I emailed Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones, the CEO of a competing algae company in California called LiveFuels.

    She at once zeroed in on the Keasling quote. "Jay is a rock star, but Craig is a galaxy. No one on Earth has generated more important data than has Craig," she said.

    But Morgenthaler-Jones also poured cold water on the scaled-up potential for genetically modified algae. "When it comes to replacing petroleum, the whole discussion of synthetic cells is a red herring," she said.

    The truth is, neither [Venter nor Keasling] will succeed in replacing petroleum for many reasons, including the fact that [genetically modified organisms] are not as robust as wild species. But what may be the biggest reason was covered by Foreign Policy months ago - the looming phosphate shortage.

    Morgenthaler-Jones was referring to the requirement in algae production of huge volumes of phosphate, which is becoming scarce.

    Morgenthaler-Jones's husband, Dave, who is COO of LiveFuels, adds that algae companies, including Venter, cannot be assumed to be aiming at making fuel. Plastics, Jones says, earn much more money than biodiesel:

    When (not if, because the proofs exist) we can convince algae (or yeast or bacteria) to make useful hydrocarbons, why would we make the lowest-value products (fuel)? It's said that something like 5%-10% of a barrel of oil goes to the higher-value products (plastics, etc.).

    So if world-wide consumption of oil is about 30 billion barrels a year, 1.5 billion to 3 billion barrels goes to such products. That's a pretty big set of markets to saturate before you waste time making fuel."


    Vote Up! 0 Vote Down! 0

  • Krupali wrote:
    Wed September 08 2010 09:04:51 AM

    Thanks Duncan.

    Vote Up! 0 Vote Down! 0

Login to Post a Comment