The maverick scientist Craig Venter was dubbed Darth Venter for wanting to charge the human race a fortune to read its own genetic code. Now the balding Vietnam veteran has another cunning plan: to get exclusive rights to the bare essentials of life and create green fuels that will make him a dollar trillionaire.
Venter, a former school drop-out with an IQ of 142, was vilified by the scientific establishment for taking them on in a race to sequence the human genome – the biochemical instruction manual for homo sapiens. The result in 2000 was a dead heat between the publicly funded Human Genome Project, which was battling to release the knowledge free of charge, and Venter with his scheme to sell the patented findings.
A man of supreme immodesty, the 60-year-old American relished the controversy, flashing his Learjet, yacht and Rolex, his Hollywood-style interviews and his ability to raise $1 billion on the New York stock market in a single day. Immune to insults deriding him as “Hitler”, “a self-aggrandising pain in the arse” and “an opportunistic maniac”, he proclaimed: “Is my science of the level consistent with other people who have gotten the Nobel? Yes.”
Although Venter had become arguably the best-known molecular biologist after Watson and Crick, the discoverers of the DNA double helix, his proposed money-spinner was dead in the water and his firm sacked him. In the cartoon-book tradition of egocentric scientists, Venter railed against the “morons” who had failed to understand his vision. He began to hatch another fiendish scheme for world dominance
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