The announcement by biotech company Celera Genomics that it has 'finished' sequencing the human genome has been disputed by scientists from the publicly-funded Human Genome Project (HGP). They have questioned the Celera's claims that it will assemble the complete sequence within six weeks.
Speaking at the Human Genome Mapping 2000 meeting in Vancouver last week, Dr Francis Collins, head of the public consortium, told reporters they should not take at face value any claim by any group for at least two years that says 'we have finished sequencing a human genome sequence'. Although a HGP spokeswoman said that Dr Collins remarks had not criticised Celera, but was referring to the definition of completing the genome, shares in the firm dropped 20 per cent last week.
The controversy over Celera's latest claim is centred around the 'shifting finishing line' in the race for raw sequence data. Dr Collins said Celera had reduced the number of reviews it conducted on each new piece of data. In 1998, the company said it intended to sequence the human genome ten times over (10 X coverage), to ensure accuracy. This was revised to four times in January 2000, and now seems closer to three times, according to sequencing experts.
Dr. Robert Waterston, head of genetics at Washington University in St Louis, believes that Celera's coverage will result in a sequence with over 40,000 gaps. The publicly-funded Human Genome Project are planning a sequence with 5X coverage by the end of this year, and a complete copy with 10X coverage by 2003.
Meanwhile, scientists from the publicly-funded Human Genome Project have announced they have 'rough drafts' of the DNA sequence of human chromosomes 5, 16 and 19. The researchers, based at Los Alamos, Livermore and Berkeley, California, say they have completed about 90 per cent of the three chromosomes - their allotted quota of the HGP's workload. 'This is big stuff, and I'm really proud of these guys', said Bill Richardson, the US Secretary of Energy.