Rivals in DNA Code Race Agree to Truce
- By Nicholas Wade
- Jun. 24 2000 00:00
After months of fitful negotiation that seemed to flame out in a final angry exchange in February, the two sides racing to decode the human DNA have contrived a last-minute truce. The first element of the resurrected pact is likely to be a joint announcement next week of the effective completion of the genome.
Although it is too late for a pooling of DNA sequencing efforts, the truce will include agreement for the competitors to publish their genome findings in the same issue of a journal.
It may also provide for a joint annotation of the genome, the critical process of identifying the location and role of the genes on the genome.
Should the two sides cooperate in such an interpretation of their data, a step that has at least been under discussion, the truce could develop into a broader pact.
The truce also implies a cessation of public criticisms between the two parties, the Celera Corp. of Rockville, Maryland, and an international consortium of academic centers supported largely by the National Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Trust, a London philanthropy.
Although the institutes and the trust decline to discuss the deal, the trust has said it will hold a news conference on the human genome next Monday, and sources close to Celera say a joint news conference will be held at the White House, at which the two sides will announce the progress of their respective efforts on sequencing the genome.
Sequencing means determining the order of three billion chemical units in the DNA of the human chromosomes. The genome sequence in time may revolutionize knowledge of the human body and the practice of medicine.
The rival teams appear to have been driven together by a calculus that cooperation outweighed the attractions of laying claim to one of science's greatest prizes independently, especially now that each has achieved successes that vindicate its own approach.
Celera has established the validity of its genome sequencing strategy, which the consortium's two senior scientists had predicted would be "woefully inadequate." The consortium has generated a draft genome sequence that can be searched for human genes, a principal objective of the human genome project.
Celera was set to declare victory in achieving a complete genome assembly months before the consortium could do so. But Celera's business plan is to sell genome data and genomic analysis tools to the community of university scientists from which the consortium is drawn. Claiming victory might have alienated potential customers.
The consortium could have attacked Celera's genome as not being the real thing while going on to declare its own independent victory, though perhaps as late as 2003. The alternative, which it seems now to have embraced, was to accept Celera's proposal of declaring joint victory on Celera's timetable.