One of science’s most outsized personalities, Craig Venter is also one of its most important researchers for delivering on his ambitious goals and propelling other scientists forward in the process. Venter has been making important advances in the study of genes since he was a National Institutes of Health researcher in the 1990s when he promoted the use of expressed sequence tags: a rough way to identify genes that has proved useful in research. In his most high-profile accomplishment, he took on the publicly funded Human Genome Project by completing a draft of the human genome just before the HGP did. Together, their work offered the first complete map of what our genes look like and may eventually open the door to personalized medicine: the tailoring of medical treatment to an individual’s genetic makeup.

Venter later turned an around-the-world sailing trip into a research expedition by collecting ocean samples at various depths. His lab’s analysis of the collection revealed six million new genes and four hundred new species of microbes. In 2007, he published his own genome, which was the first complete genome of an individual human. Now Venter has turned his interest to synthetic biology by recently creating the longest piece of DNA ever manufactured. He plans to take on the oil industry by designing clean synthetic biofuels that would be compatible with existing oil infrastructures. He is the founder and president of the nonprofit J. Craig Venter Institute and the founder and CEO of Synthetic Genomics. He is also the author of the book A Life Decoded: My Genome: My Life.