US firm Celera Genomics claimed last week that it has finished sequencing 99 per cent of the human genome, and is now putting the information together in a meaningful order. The announcement follows a statement last week from the publicly-funded Human Genome Project, which aims to publish a rough draft of the genome by the end of June.
Craig Venter, head of Celera, said that the company would now turn its computational power to the task of ordering the genome. Shares in Celera rose by 19 per cent following the statement, which prompted criticism from the firm's public sector rivals.
Tim Hubbard, head of human genome sequencing at the Sanger Centre in Cambridge, suspected Venter's announcement was aimed more at his shareholders than scientists. 'He's got fragments of DNA sequences but has not yet assembled them into anything meaningful' Dr Hubbard told the Independent on Sunday. He likened Celera's data to a shredded copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica: 'You might be able to read fragments of it but it won't mean very much' he added. John Sulston, head of the Sanger Centre, told the Guardian that the announcement meant little as long as Celera was keeping its data a commercial.
Dr Venter, in a written testimony for a Congressional hearing held last week says that from its formation, Celera's goal has been to produce a high-quality human genome sequence that will stand the test of time. He described the public consortium's data as 'an unordered collection of over 500,000 fragments' that is 'nowhere close to being done'.
Although the competition between the public and private bodies sequencing the genome is being widely perceived as a race, Dr Sulston argues the two sides are pursuing different goals. 'They want to make a profit' he says of Celera, adding 'We want to make the data publicly available'.