A Life Decoded

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 April, 2009, 12:00am

A Life Decoded
by J. Craig Venter
Penguin, HK$170

In A Life Decoded J. Craig Venter says the attacks and setbacks he has experienced in his bid to sequence the human genome would have thrown some people into a funk. Because of his 'genetic resilience' - he mapped his own genome and analyses the data for readers - he has not only survived the battles but also leapfrogged obstacles. As the book painstakingly details, there were many. Venter was the leader of one of two teams racing to decode the 3 billion DNA 'letters' that form human genes. He vowed that his privately funded group would achieve its aims at a 10th of US government spending on the same and three years earlier. He won the competition in 2000 - although a deal was struck that allowed both teams to announce a collaborative effort - but at a cost. He lost his job, his wife and more. The first part of his autobiography prepares readers for the kind of man Venter was to become after trading in his surfboard for science. Working as an army medic in Vietnam helped him make the career move. But judging by his brash brilliance, he probably would have won fame in whatever field he chose. The book is an adventure, a rant and an astonishing scientific record.