January 1, 1970 (Vol. , No. )

Laura Sohn

GEN received many thoughtful essays for its “Who is the Steve Jobs of biotechnology?” contest. In selecting the winners, the GEN editorial team took into consideration both the magnitude of the nominated individual’s role in altering the life science industry, as well as the clarity and conciseness of the essay itself.

Here, we present the winning essays, and once again congratulate our winners for a job well done.

First-place: Heather Chambers, communications specialist at the California Healthcare Institute:

Who is the Steve Jobs of biotechnology? Without compare, biologist, geneticist and entrepreneur J. Craig Venter fits the bill. Credited last year for creating the first self-replicating, bacterial cell with a synthetic genome, Venter is biotechnology’s visionary, unafraid to push big ideas and undeterred by those who stand in the way (see: Human Genome Project). When doubts surfaced about his alternative approach to decoding DNA, Venter persevered, establishing shotgun sequencing as the gold standard. Today, he’s leading efforts to comb the world’s oceans for unknown microorganisms that may lead to new antibiotic discoveries, while simultaneously conjuring up ways to cure our dependence on oil. He’s an unabashed self-promoter. A challenger of conventional wisdom. At times, brash and egotistic. A maverick.

He shares with Jobs an instinctive ability to foresee technological solutions to future challenges. And their grade-school teachers never saw it coming.

Venter’s efforts are just beginning to attract the kind of big-name financial backers that made Apple a household name. But, then again, this is science. And commercial success takes time.

Even so, Venter’s self-named institute declared last year’s scientific feat “proof of principle that genomes can be designed in the computer.”

Wouldn’t that make Jobs proud?

Second-place: Liza Strueva, a high school student from Iowa:

Craig Venter is the Steve Jobs of biotechnology. Both scientists started their companies from zero using their vision and knowledge. Both scientists worked with respectable organizations like Apple and National Institute of Health before going on their own. While at NIH, Craig Venter was frustrated with the traditional methods of gene identification. He then left NIH to open his own nonprofit, The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), to do research on the decoding of the Human genome. Craig Venter hired many highly experienced computer scientists to write a program to assemble the DNA sequence. Craig Venter had a powerful organized vision that he used to develop a system to decode DNA sequences, and especially DNA sequence of human genome and colon cancer. He collected used traditional methods of decoding DNA that were time consuming, and organized them together into one system using the power of computers, which compares to Steve Jobs’ development of new and better computers. Steve Jobs was frustrated with the first computers: their huge size, speed, and cost. He then decided to come up with a smaller, better, cheaper version of a computer. He was a CEO of Apple at first, but then resigned from the position and like Venter founded his own organization called NeXT. And like Craig Venter, he and Wozniak developed a better, faster, cheaper new model of the computer. Both scientists had a great vision. They both opened their companies from zero and started from scratch. They used known methods and organized them together to make systems efficient.

Third place: Nikolas Konstantopoulos, a biologist from Greece:

Biotechnology is a pluralistic science with high rates of development. All the sciences are focusing on making our lives better but specifically the Human sciences are ameliorating our quality of life from the very beginning until (hopefully) a very old age. All the delicate knowledge which is elicited from the upcoming, every day evolutions of that science, are concentrated on that. But every disease is based actually, and from the very beginning, on a genetic defect, which may involve a single gene, some genes, or chromosomes.

The knowledge which regulates the origin of life and its further course is based on the genome and in the science of Genetics. So, actually we own that origin of the endless path of knowledge, to the person who showed us the way: James Dewey Watson. This molecular biologist and geneticist together with Francis Crick in 1953 discovered the structure of DNA and implicated it as the ‘’storage place’’ where all necessary information for our ontogenesis and morphogenesis are hidden. In this way they provided us with the key for the most interesting journey to our own insight. Thereafter, that science is growing rapidly with a single and ultimate goal: the alleviation of human pain, the better control of our environment, and actually, a world where less morbidity, hunger, and all the range of discomforts that may deteriorate or at least decrease our quality of life.

The goal of each science, but specifically Genetics, is global, without taking into consideration ethnicity, culture, or religious. The target is common so every single person can have a life with better perspectives throughout his/her life. With the applications of Genetics and Biotechnology we can predict the development of a disease; we can interfere in the course of its development and actually try to understand the basis of all the physic and psychic morbidities.

By recapitulating my thoughts, all these amazing steps that we can accomplish today, we owe them to that person which taught us ‘’how to walk’’, James Dewey Watson.

Laura Sohn is Senior Editor at Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News.

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