Craig Venter, of the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland USA, is joint winner of the King Faisal International Prize for Science this year, along with biologist Professor Edward Wilson, of Harvard University.
Venter has developed new, rapid techniques for identifying genes and sequencing entire genomes. Once part of the publicly-funded Human Genome Project, he set up a private company, Celera Genomics, in 1998. The firm says it hopes to have a working draft of the human genome in just a few weeks. But Venter has caused controversy in the scientific community with his plans to patent any genes he finds.
Biotech firms in the UK and the US have already been granted patents over dozens of genes, and the race is on to secure more. Last week, shares in US firm Human Genome Sciences jumped 50 per cent after it won patent rights on the gene for a human protein, CCR5, that acts as a 'docking site' for the AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) virus.
Meanwhile, share prices in US biotech firm Curagen also soared, following the publication of a paper in the journal Nature on its analysis of interactions between yeast proteins. Some analysts noted there was a rush to buy shares two days before publication, suggesting a leak on an Internet noticeboard.