A History of Silicon Valley

This biography is an appendix to my book "A History of Silicon Valley"

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(Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi)

Michael Hunkapiller

Michael Hunkapiller (Oklahoma, 1948) studied chemistry at Oklahoma Baptist University until 1970 and graduated in chemical biology from CalTech in 1974. 1986 Leroy Hood's team at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena refined an automated method to sequence DNA, i.e. the first automated DNA sequencer, which made it possible (not just theoretical) to sequence the entire human genome. Within one year that sequencer was launched on the market by the Bay Area start-up Applied Biosystems. Leroy Hood's team included a young Mike Hunkapiller, who had joined Applied Biosystems in 1983. PE Biosystems, the new name of Applied Biosystems after being acquired (in february 1993) by East-Coast colossus Perkin-Elmer, became a wealthy company with revenues of $871 million in 1998. Michael Hunkapiller became its president in 1995. He decided to launch a private project to decode the human genome before the Human Genome Project and hired Craig Venter of Maryland's Institute for Genomic Research. In may 1998 Hunkapiller and Venter set up a new company, Celera Genomics, which soon relocated to the Bay Area (Alameda, near Oakland). Technically, both Biosystems of Foster City and Celera Genomics of Alameda were owned by Applera, a spin-off of Perkin-Elmer's Life Sciences Division which in 2000 also became the official new name of Perkin-Elmer, except that in 2006 Applera renamed itself Applied Biosystems and spun off Celera Genomics; a confusing business story that still left two tightly related companies, one engaged in building machines and the other one in using those machines to sequence DNA. The main investor of both was the Cuban-born businessman Tony White, the head of their parent company (what used to be Perkin-Elmer) who had brokered the deal between Venter and Hunkapiller. Celera Genomics filled a staff of distinguished scholars, including Nobel laureate Hamilton Smith, and bought 300 of Applied Biosystems' most advanced machines to create the world's largest automated factory for mapping DNA. In 2000 the government-funded Human Genome Project and the privately funded Celera made peace and jointly announced that they had succeeded in decoding the entire human genome. Hunkapiller joined the venture-capital firm Alloy in 2004.
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