J. Craig Venter is no stranger to contradiction and controversy. He seems to thrive on it. In 1991, when the National Institutes of Health was haggling over patenting expressed sequence tags (ESTs)--a shortcut to identifying protein-encoding genes--Venter the inventor accepted a private offer to found The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville, Md. TIGR would discover ESTs and give most of them to a commercial sibling, Human Genome Sciences (HGS), to market. ESTs are now a standard way to tackle a cumbersome genome.1

J. Craig Venter
In 1994 TIGR asked NIH to fund sequencing of the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae. "NIH trashed the proposal. They thought it couldn't be done, that it was full of holes," recalls Claire Fraser, current president of TIGR and Venter's spouse. Even when Venter announced at a meeting that they'd assembled 90 percent of the genome and requested that their grant be...

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