Venter Institute Gets $8.8 Million in Stimulus Funding

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) said today it is providing $42 million to The Human Microbiome Project’s three large-scale sequencing centers. One of the centers is J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, MD, with its headquarters in San Diego, which gets $8.8 million as part of the government’s economic stimulus package for research that focuses on the microscopic organisms in our bodies. Venter recently told Xconomy in Sweden he was optimistic about receiving the economic stimulus funding.

Venter became known as one of the world’s leading scientists for his work in sequencing and analyzing  the human genome. He will give a speech about his revolutionary synthetic biology plans tomorrow in Sweden. Venter, the founding chairman and CEO of San Diego’s Synthetic Genomics arrived in Stockholm’s medieval Old Town aboard a Volvo Ocean Race competition ship to meet his research vessel, the 95-foot-long sailing yacht Sorcerer II, which has been sailing in its second global sampling expedition and was moored at the same location as the VOR boats. The Sorcerer II left San Diego in March following a bon voyage party.

The stopover in Stockholm is part of the J. Craig Venter Institute’s quest to map and sequence the genetic diversity of the Baltic Sea, using the same shotgun principle Venter and his company Celera used in sequencing the human genome. The Institute’s current effort involves filtering seawater pumped up from both the surface and the deep to collect the microbial organisms. The filtered biomass is then sequenced at the Institute’s lab. Sorcerer II collected the first samples in 2003; to date, the expeditions have collected a total of about 650 samples. Fifty of these are from the present journey, and stored on board Sorcerer II.

“There is a lot of genetic diversity to be discovered in the sea, far more than we expected when we started, one to two orders of magnitude greater,” Venter told me in a brief interview in Stockholm. Conventional wisdom says that the Baltic Sea, from Denmark to Finland, Sweden, and Russia, is a brackish body of water with lower diversity than the salty oceans, at least when one looks at the macrofauna, but Venter does not necessarily agree. “That is the conventional wisdom. But a hallmark of my career has been to not take the conventional wisdom for granted. The Baltic is a body of water unlike any other, with tremendous salinity and temperature gradients and very influenced by human activity.”

Venter also hinted there could be more news of Synthetic Genomics’ algae fuel plans in a month or so. He will be speaking more on the expedition’s goals and findings, and the prospects for synthetic biology at the seminar in Stockholm tomorrow. 

[Xconomy’s Juha-Pekka Tikka contributed to this story]

Erik Mellgren is a Swedish journalist who worked for Xconomy Boston in 2008 as part of the Stanford Innovation Journalism Fellowship program. His real job is with Ny Teknik, a leading technology and innovation magazine in Sweden, but he loved seeing the Red Sox at Fenway. Follow @

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