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Craig Venter, who became a scientific celebrity by sequencing the human genome in the 1990s and then moved on to microbial synthesis, is returning to human genomics on a grand scale.

He has set up a company in San Diego called Human Longevity Inc or HLI, which “will build the largest human [DNA] sequencing operation in the world”. As the name suggests, HLI aims to discover how we age in order to improve health as the process takes hold. “Our aim is not necessarily lengthening life but extending a healthier, high-performing, more productive lifespan,” Venter says.

The DNA reading technology comes from Illumina, the genetic instrumentation maker, whose latest HiSeq X Ten machines can sequence tens of thousands of human genomes a year, each containing three billion letters of genetic code. Illumina has joined a group of wealthy private investors in putting up $70m to fund HLI for its first 18 months.

“This is the company I wanted to have 13 years ago but the technology was not available then,” says Venter. “Now, at last, it is here. It is the moment I have been waiting for.”

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