Impatience of a man playing God

There is a really interesting article about Craig Venter in today’s Herald. Is he a maverick, headline-grabbing biologist with an ego the size of a planet or a brilliant researcher who has succeeded in creating life? A bit of both, actually, writes Tim Adams. Here’s an extract:

There is, appropriately enough, a biblical quality to Craig Venter’s account of the genesis of his quest to create life “from scratch”.

He dates his mission to 1968 when working in the frontline medical corps of the United States Army in Vietnam during the Tet offensive.

He had tried, and mostly failed, to save hundreds of men from dying – it was M*A*S*H without jokes – and he felt he’d had enough of the horror of life.

A champion swimmer, he determined to swim out into the South China Sea and not swim back.

In the beginning, then, this mythology goes, the biologist was in the middle of the ocean, “surrounded by venomous sea serpents”, preparing to meet his genome. It took a shark circling to wake him out of this suicidal fantasy.

“For a moment,” he wrote in his 2007 autobiography, “I was angry that the shark had disrupted my plan. Then I became consumed with fear …” Venter struck out for shore, now miles behind him, and when he arrived there it was as if he had been reborn, like Robinson Crusoe, into a new fate: “I lay on the sand, naked, for what felt like hours. I was exhausted and relieved.

Read the rest here.


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