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Saturday, 19 February, 2000, 19:53 GMT
Gene tycoon scoops top science prize

Dr Craig Venter will patent important human genes Dr Craig Venter will patent important human genes

By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

The scientist some have described as the biotech equivalent of computer tycoon Bill Gates, and who is certainly one of the world's most controversial researchers, has won a prestigious academic award.

Dr Craig Venter, of the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland, USA, and Celera Genomics, is the joint winner of the King Faisal International Prize for Science along with biologist Professor Edward Wilson, of Harvard University.

Five previous winners of the award have gone on to win Nobel prizes.

Dr Venter has established new, swift techniques for identifying genes and the sequencing of entire genetic maps, or genomes, of organisms.

At one time, he was a prominent figure in the Human Genome project, a non-profit-making global enterprise dedicated to working out all the chemical sequences that make up the human genetic code.

Patent genes

But in 1998, he broke away to set up a private sector rival, Celera Genomics. Whereas the Human Genome Project intends to place all its findings in the public domain, Dr Venter plans to patent any key genes that he finds.

Last December, he revealed a blueprint for the creation of life saying that just 350 or so genes were needed to create an artificial, living organism.

Celera Genomics has said that it hopes to have a working draft of the human genome in just a few weeks.

Professor E.O. Wilson is one of the most outstanding biologists of the century. He has been a pioneer of major scientific disciplines: the field of sociobiology which seeks to investigate the genetic basis of human and animal behaviour, the study of species within ecosystems, and the conservation of the biological diversity of species.

In addition, he has made an ambitious attempt to bring together, in a single conceptual framework, various fields of knowledge, from natural and social sciences to humanities and the arts.

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See also:
10 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
Scientists call for life creation debate
10 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Human gene race nears end
26 Oct 99 |  Sci/Tech
6,000 human gene patents sought
20 Sep 99 |  Sci/Tech
Plan to block patenting of human genes

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