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The Voyage of Sorcerer II

The Expedition That Unlocked the Secrets of the Ocean’s Microbiome

J. Craig Venter, David Ewing Duncan

ISBN 9780674246478

Publication date: 09/12/2023

“Will undoubtedly shape our understanding of the global ecosystem for decades to come.”
—Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies

A celebrated genome scientist sails around the world, collecting tens of millions of marine microbes and revolutionizing our understanding of the microbiome that sustains us.

Upon completing his historic work on the Human Genome Project, J. Craig Venter declared that he would sequence the genetic code of all life on earth. Thus began a fifteen-year quest to collect DNA from the world’s oldest and most abundant form of life: microbes. Boarding the Sorcerer II, a 100-foot sailboat turned research vessel, Venter traveled over 65,000 miles around the globe to sample ocean water and the microscopic life within.

In The Voyage of Sorcerer II, Venter and science writer David Ewing Duncan tell the remarkable story of these expeditions and of the momentous discoveries that ensued—of plant-like bacteria that get their energy from the sun, proteins that metabolize vast amounts of hydrogen, and microbes whose genes shield them from ultraviolet light. The result was a massive library of millions of unknown genes, thousands of unseen protein families, and new lineages of bacteria that revealed the unimaginable complexity of life on earth. Yet despite this exquisite diversity, Venter encountered sobering reminders of how human activity is disturbing the delicate microbial ecosystem that nurtures life on earth. In the face of unprecedented climate change, Venter and Duncan show how we can harness the microbial genome to develop alternative sources of energy, food, and medicine that might ultimately avert our destruction.

A captivating story of exploration and discovery, The Voyage of Sorcerer II restores microbes to their rightful place as crucial partners in our evolutionary past and guides to our future.


  • Writing with award-winning science journalist Duncan, Venter presents a lively account of a groundbreaking exploration of the microbiome of the Earth’s waters…Important and adventurous science on the high seas.

    —Kirkus Reviews


  • J. Craig Venter is founder, Chairman, and CEO of the J. Craig Venter Institute, a nonprofit research organization. He is cofounder of the biotechnology companies Celera, Synthetic Genomics, and Human Longevity, Inc. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, he has received numerous public honors and scientific awards, including the US National Medal of Science.
  • David Ewing Duncan is an award-winning science journalist. A contributor to Wired, Vanity Fair, the New York Times, National Public Radio, ABC News, The Atlantic, and National Geographic and the bestselling author of eleven books published in twenty-one languages, he was founding director of the Center for Life Science Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

Book Details

  • 336 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press
  • Foreword by Erling Norrby