Venter Institute marks groundbreaking

By Dave Schwab

The La Jolla biologist who cracked the human genetic code and created the first synthetic microbe has added a laboratory generating all its own power to his growing repertoire of “firsts.”

UCSD alum J. Craig Venter described the 45,000-square-foot J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), which ultimately will house about 125 genetic research scientists and staff, as “the world’s first zero carbon research building.”

“We’ve looked at a lot of different things you can do with architecture to make things truly sustainable and it’s been a real challenge,” said Venter at the Sept. 20 groundbreaking. The project will be built on UCSD property next to Allen Field at the corner of North Torrey Pines Road and Torrey Pines Road.

Venter said the team modified the design to make it green, extending all the way down to “using laptop computers rather than desktops which use 10 times as much power.”

UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox said having the new Venter facility on campus would enhance collaboration of researchers and faculty in the hope of “advancing science at an even quicker pace so we can improve and save lives.”

Tony Haymet, director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and UCSD Vice Chancellor for Marine Sciences, noted the new Venter Institute has “been a long time coming.” He talked about the historic roots of the new facility running deep.

“Scripps started in 1903 and Miss Ellen Scripps was such a great benefactor,” he said noting the new Venter laboratory sits on the eastern edge of the 180 acres Miss Scripps had bought for SIO, as it later came to be named.

Haymet said the new laboratory’s mission to unlock the mysteries of genetics to find ways to benefit mankind fits neatly into UCSD’s legacy of groundbreaking scientific research. He referenced Roger Revelle, SIO’s fourth director, and Charles David Keeling, originator of the Keeling Curve measuring carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere, saying theirr pioneering work in global warming is “the reason why we care, and this building is here.”

Sustainable elements at JCVI are to include: natural ventilation/passive cooling; utilizing roof rainfall runoff for cooling, irrigation and washing; “green” LEED Platinum Certification; and an extensive network of roof gardens to provide shade and frame ocean views.

Quipping that he understood little of the technical details of the Venter Institute’s “ultra-green” new lab facility, Mayor Jerry Sanders welcomed JCVI to San Diego’s growing scientific community which he said is working to “change the world.”

Construction is set to begin soon, with completion anticipated in 2013. The institute has borrowed money to launch the project and is anticipating donations from local philanthropists to defer some of the project’s costs.

JCVI now has a temporary facility near UCSD with 60 researchers and its East Coast headquarters in Rockville, Md., with approximately 240 scientists and staff.