J. Craig Venter addresses UCSD grads

Genomics leader part of ceremony



Genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter urged a class of 56 graduates to trust their instincts, in a speech on Saturday at the University of California San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmaceutical Sciences commencement.

Venter is most notable for his work with the National Institute of Health, his development of expressed sequence tags and his publication of the first complete human genome in 2007.

Dr. Palmer Taylor, dean of the Skaggs School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, said Venter was chosen to speak for his many achievements in the field and his inspiring personal story.

“Our most creative alumnus would be J. Craig Venter, making him a perfect fit for the Class of 2009,” Taylor said.

Venter, who called himself a poor student, said he first moved to Orange County to take up a career as a surfer, but was drafted off his surfboard to become a medic in Vietnam.

After returning to school and receiving a bachelor’s in science in biochemistry from the College of San Mateo, he transferred to UCSD and earned a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology in 1975.

“Almost everything you learn here is irrelevant, science is in its early stages and in 10 years if you’re practicing what you’ve learned now you’ll probably be guilty of malpractice,” Venter said. “But what you do learn, is how to think.”

As the new graduates pursue careers in pharmaceutical and related sciences, Venter said it is very important that they remember the changing nature of science.

Of the 2 million adverse reactions to medications reported last year, 100,000 resulted in death. Venter said that it is the graduates’ job to combat those numbers through increased knowledge of the human genetic code and its role in pharmacology.

“These are just hints of things to come,” Venter said. “But it’s not just about the changes you’ll be facing, it’s about you, and this milestone.”