Rivals celebrate 'rough draft' of human genome

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The Independent Online

History will be made on Monday with simultaneous announcements on both side of the Atlantic that scientists have completed the first "rough draft" of the human genome - the digital recipe encoded in our DNA for making man and woman.

History will be made on Monday with simultaneous announcements on both side of the Atlantic that scientists have completed the first "rough draft" of the human genome - the digital recipe encoded in our DNA for making man and woman.

Bill Clinton and Tony Blair are expected jointly to welcome completion of 90 per cent of the code in what has been called the age's most monumental scientific project. The 90 per cent figure was chosen as the point at which the genome would have scientific value.

The occasion will be marked by a rapprochement between the two rivals to be first to sequence the 3 billion "letters" of the genetic code wrapped within the 23 pairs of human chromosomes. Francis Collins, head of the publicly funded Human Genome Project based at the National Institutes of Health in the US, is to share the glory with Craig Venter, head of the privately funded Celera Genomics, in Rockville, Maryland.

The White House is understood to have been instrumental in forcing the sides together to demonstrate that the occasion is too important to be marred by personal rivalries. The Human Genome Project, set up a decade ago, has been orchestrated from five institutes, including the Wellcome Trust's Sanger Centre near Cambridge. Dr Venter's private investors had hoped Celera would sequence enough of the genetic code to form a valuable database that could be sold to drug companies and others hoping to develop the medical therapies of the 21st century.

Both sides have exchanged bitter words, with members of the Human Genome Project saying its policy of openly publishing DNA sequences on the internet as soon as they are completed was at ethical odds with Celera's more secretive approach built around patents.

The final 10 per cent of the genome is to be finished by 2003, several years ahead ofschedule. The task of working out what each of the 50,000 or so human genes does has begun.

One of the first jobs will be to count the genes. Estimates have varied from 30,000 to 150,000. Completion of the human genome will enable scientists to develop tests for inherited diseases as well as the genetic predisposition for such disorders as cancer and heart disease. Scientists believe it will also open the doors to an era of "personalised medicine" when a patient's genetic constitution is taken into account before doctors prescribe drugs or therapies.

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