Craig Venter and James Watson were the people’s choice.

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News announces that Craig Venter and James Watson were the winning candidates nominated by contestants who submitted essays for GEN’s “Who is the Steve Jobs of Biotechnology?” contest.

The first-place essay writer was Heather Chambers, a communications specialist at the California Healthcare Institute. Heather chose Craig Venter largely for his critical role in the completion of the Human Genome Project, which has transformed the understanding and practice of biological science. She noted that Venter “shares with Jobs an instinctive ability to foresee technological solutions to future challenges. And their grade-school teachers never saw it coming.”

The second-place winner was Liza Strueva, a high school student from Iowa. Liza also nominated Craig Venter in her essay. She too highlighted Venter’s key contributions to the decoding of the human genome as well as his ability to push computer power and the application of biological data to new levels. Referring to Venter, Liza pointed out that “he took traditional methods of decoding DNA that were time consuming and then organized them into one system using the power of computers, which compares to Steve Jobs’ development of new and better computers.”

Nikolas Konstantopoulos, a biologist from Greece, received the third-place prize for his essay, which named James Watson as biotech’s Steve Jobs equivalent. Indeed, without Watson and Crick deciphering the structure of DNA, there would either be no biotechnology industry or its emergence would have been greatly delayed. In addition to his Nobel Prize-winning work on DNA, Watson also served as the leader of the NIH Office of Human Genome Research in the late 1980s and was a former director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. As Nikolas wrote, “The knowledge which regulates life and life’s future course is based on the science of genetics and the genome. On this path, James Watson showed us the way.”

The first-place winner, Heather Chambers, was awarded a $500 American Express Gift Card; Liza Strueva received a $350 Amex Gift Card; and Nikolas Konstantopoulos won a $150 Amex Gift Card.

There were multiple submissions for Craig Venter, James Watson, Francis Crick, and Robert Langer. Among the other nominations were Jonathan Rothberg, Kary Mullis, Rosalind Franklin, and George Washington Carver.

The GEN editorial team finalized its choice of winners not based on the fact that a famous scientist or biotech businessperson made an important contribution to the life sciences. The yardsticks we used were 1) whether an individual’s contribution significantly changed the course of the life science industry, as Steve Jobs did for the consumer electronics business, and 2) the clarity and conciseness with which the essay writer submitted his or her nomination.

“I want to thank the dozens and dozens of people who sent in extremely thoughtful and well-written essays for the GEN contest,” said John Sterling, Editor-in-Chief of GEN. “All that interest made it a bit difficult to decide on the final winners because many of the essays were so good. But Heather, Liza, and Nikolas did a wonderful job in explaining why the scientists they chose should be considered the Steve Jobs of biotechnology.”

“I’m a big fan of GEN’s coverage of the biomedical community and it’s exciting to be named winner of one of its contests,” said Chambers, when informed that she was the first prize winner. “The majority of Americans cannot name a living scientist. We should support and celebrate the incredible innovations happening in biotechnology today so that everyone has the name of a great scientist on the tip of their tongue.”

High school student Liza Struever told GEN that “ I feel very happy and honored to win a prize for writing about two great scientists [Jobs and Venter] who had such a big influence on science and technology.”

Writing from Thessaloniki in Greece, Nikolas Konstantopoulos simply said “Thank you.”

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