By Tim Friend

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He developed the system while working at Stratagene. The lambda ZAP vector was used by Venter for early EST sequencing. Combined with improving PCR technologies and automated sequencing, Venter thought the speed of these new systems would allow shotgun sequencing to conquer a genome and possibly the human genome. The microbial genome became a wonderful proving ground and provided a path for funding. His strategy was criticized broadly in view of the more certain ordered approach, but the bet fit his personality and may have been reasonable since he didn’t have another way of getting ahead of the established gene mapping in-crowd.

About 90 species of these 6,000 are archaea, and of these about 60 have been cultured by Karl Stetter, who developed extraordinary measures to grow these various 38 THE THIRD DOMAIN methane-loving, salt-loving, sulfur-loving, heat-thriving, and pressure-dwelling oddballs in the lab. Culturing is rapidly becoming passé for microbial ecology and species surveys. It is the wrong tool for the job. Obtaining a little bit of DNA from microbes and applying polymerase chain reaction (PCR)—genetic fingerprinting—to amplify the genetic bits obviates the need to culture.

It had been proven to be an efficient cloning system. His team, however, did not believe it would work on raw DNA from the environment. They were surprised when it worked even better than Short expected. His method became the first to allow harvesting and expression screening of DNA directly from the environment. The direct cloning and stable expression of genes to explore previously unknown microorganisms from other domains and extremes of life opened up a brand new world. It allowed the identification of millions of novel genes, and not in one microbe at a time, but thousands at a time.

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