Genome project goes into overdrive

By Jonathan Knight and Kurt Kleiner A PRIVATE company announced plans this week to sequence the human genome by 2001, four years sooner than the target date set by the publicly funded Human Genome Project. All the data will be made freely available to researchers. “We decided it would be morally wrong to keep the data secret,” says Craig Venter, president of the still unnamed company and founder of The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville, Maryland. Formed by TIGR and Perkin-Elmer, a scientific equipment manufacturer in Norwalk, Connecticut, the new company will use powerful DNA sequencing machines to read the 30 billion bases in human DNA within three years. “You may describe this as the full monty,” says Venter. He estimates that sequencing the genome will cost around $200 million. “We will take a large number of machines and build a super genome-sequencing factory,” he says. “The raw sequence data will be freely accessible in the public databases, provided they can handle the amount of data we produce.” The news may prompt the US Congress to reconsider its budget of $3 billion for the Human Genome Project, half of which has already been spent, with 97 per cent of the genome still to be sequenced. But Venter says that the new company is keen to collaborate with its public counterparts. Francis Collins, head of the genome project at the National Institutes of Health near Washington DC, says he welcomes the new initiative, but adds: “It would be really premature to change the plans for our own centres, given that this is new and it’s not clear what the outcome will be.” The new company hopes to make money by identifying single-nucleotide polymorphisms, subtle variations in the same gene that predispose particular individuals to disease, and dictate which medicines will work for them. This information, which takes extra effort to tease out,
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