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J. Craig Venter Institute Joins JHU Montgomery County Campus

JCVI logo.jpgThe J. Craig Venter Institute is a new tenant at the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus. JCVI is a not-for-profit research institute with approximately 200 employees, split between sites in Rockville and La Jolla, Calif. It is one of the largest independent, not-for-profit research institutes in the United States. Staff at both locations are engaged in similar work, including wet and dry lab, bioinformatics and administrative functions.

Hopkins Happenings asked JCVI about its background and current research.

Hopkins Happenings: Tell us about the J. Craig Venter Institute and its history.

JCVI: JCVI is a world leader in genomic and bioinformatics research fueled by a team-centered, multidisciplinary approach to large research initiatives. JCVI was founded in 1992 as The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR). Through a series of consolidations occurring in 2004 and 2006, the institute was renamed the J. Craig Venter Institute.

For more than a quarter-century, Dr. J. Craig Venter and his research teams have been genomics pioneers. The revolution began in 1991 when at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Venter and his team developed expressed sequence tags (ESTs), a new technique to rapidly discover genes. In 1992 this team left NIH to start a new kind of not-for-profit research institute, TIGR. With the freedom to pursue any number of exciting avenues in the burgeoning field of genomics, the team used its new computing and computational tools, as well as new DNA sequencing technology, to sequence the first free-living organism, Haemophilus influenzae in 1995.

With this advance, the floodgates of genomics were opened. The institute went on to sequence and analyze more than 50 microbial genomes. Dr. Venter and some from his team moved into mammalian genomics, which culminated in the sequencing and analysis of the first draft human genome. It was published in 2001 by Dr. Venter and his team at Celera Genomics.

JCVI researchers continue their legacy of success with countless new breakthroughs: the first synthetic cell, the first diploid human genome, discovery of more than 60 million new genes from the Global Ocean Sampling Expedition, seminal work in cataloguing the human microbiome (all the microbes that live in and on the human body), and important research into a variety of infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance.

Hopkins Happenings: What is JCVI working on now?

JCVI: We have many numerous projects spanning mammalian genomics, microbial and environmental genomics, infectious disease and synthetic biology.

For example: Insulin delivery using infusion pumps can be effective for treatment of type 1 diabetes (T1D), but it does not completely protect T1D patients from the long-term effects of the disease or enable a normal non-diabetic lifestyle. The solution JCVI is devising is to give bacterial cells that naturally live in our body the capacity to function like our insulin cells -- to produce insulin when blood glucose levels are high to maintain proper glucose levels in T1D patients.

JCVI also is working on projects including a collaboration on bioenergy with Honda; development of vaccines against veterinary pathogens; research into herpes viruses and African Swine Fever Virus; and research into nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Hopkins Happenings: What is Dr. Venter most known for?

JCVI: Dr. Venter is most known for not accepting the status quo or the slow pace of genomic research. There are many examples, starting with sequencing Haemophilus influenzae in 1995 using the shotgun sequencing method, which critics said was not possible. He then applied the same method to many other sequencing projects including the human genome, culminating in its completion in 2001. More recently he is known for the Global Ocean Sampling Expedition, which set out to catalog the microbial diversity of the world’s oceans; building the first synthetic cell; and building the first minimal cell.

Hopkins Happenings: Why did JCVI decide to move to the JHU Montgomery County Campus?

JCVI has a long history of operating in the Rockville area, starting with our founding in 1992. Its proximity to NIH, DOE, and other government agencies, as well as Montgomery County’s commitment to the life sciences, has made Rockville an ideal location to further research. We are excited to be on the JHU campus and hope to meet our new neighbors.

CATEGORY: Tenant News