Human genome researcher J. Craig Venter to deliver 2011 commencement speech

Scientist J. Craig Venter, known for his research of the human genome, will give the 2011 commencement address at Syracuse University, SU officials announced Friday.

‘Craig Venter boldly transcends boundaries to take on some of the greatest challenges and questions of our time,’ said Chancellor Nancy Cantor in the news release.

Venter will speak to graduates from SU, the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and the SU College of Law on May 15 in the Carrier Dome, according to the release.

This year will mark SU’s 157th Commencement, but will be the first time College of Law graduates will be joining SU and ESF graduates in one commencement ceremony, according to the release. The decision was made jointly between the College of Law and the university, said Kevin Quinn, vice president for public affairs at SU.

‘We are very excited to be marking commencement together with the College of Law community,’ Quinn said in an email.

Venter is the founder, chairman and president of the J. Craig Venter Institute, a nonprofit, research-based organization with about 400 scientists dedicated to microbial, human, plant and environmental genomic research. The institute also studies social and ethical issues in genomics. In May 2010, Venter announced the creation of the first, self-replicating synthetic bacterial cell, according to the release.

After completing a tour of duty from 1967 to 1968 as a Navy corpsman in Vietnam, Venter began his formal education. While studying at the University of California at San Diego, Venter earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, and a doctorate in physiology and pharmacology.

Venter has been recognized by TIME Magazine as one of the most influential people in the world and is regarded as an important leader in the effort to decode the human genome.

In 1992, Venter founded The Institute for Genomic Research, a nonprofit research institute. He and his team decoded the genome of the first free-living organism at the institute in 1995, according to the release. In 2006, several organizations, including The Institute for Genomic Research, merged into the J. Craig Venter Institute, according to the its website.

He has published more than 250 research articles and has received many awards and honors for his work. Venter won the 2008 United States National Medal of Science and the 2002 Gairdner Foundation International Award, according to the release.

When selecting a commencement speaker, the university tries to take into consideration the many interests of students on campus, Quinn said.

The selection process begins more than a year in advance and allows students, staff, faculty, alumni and Syracuse community members to offer suggestions. The official speaker selection committee made of students then takes the submitted names and creates a shorter list of speakers to present to the chancellor. The chancellor makes the final decision based on the candidate’s relevance to SU, availability and cost, according to the release.


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