US firm Celera Genomics is to discontinue its subscription business, through which it charges scientists to access its genome data. The company caused controversy when it published its version of the entire human genetic code, in February 2001. In contrast to the publicly-funded human genome effort, Celera did not make its data freely available - usually a prerequisite for publication of DNA sequence information. The disagreements between the public consortium and Celera led to the publication of two different draft versions of the human genome in rival journals, Science and Nature.
The international Human Genome Project (HGP) public consortium unveiled the final version of the entire human genome on 14 April 2003. They found that it is made up of 2.9 billion base-pairs (DNA 'letters'), and contains an estimated 25,000 different genes. The HGP made its data available to researchers on a daily basis via the Internet. Access to Celera's data was free to academic researchers, but they were only allowed to download up to one million base pairs of DNA sequence per week, while commercial users had to pay to access the company's database. At its peak, Celera reportedly had about 25 companies and 200 academic institutions subscribed to its service.
But Celera announced last week that it will now stop its subscription business, whilst continuing its efforts to make new drugs. Francis Collins, head of the US HGP effort, welcomed the decision, saying it was proof that 'data just wants to be public'. He commented that few companies are still trying to sell genetic data, because it is now widely available for free.
Celera has reportedly been phasing out its subscriptions, which have not been renewed as they expired. After 1 July 2005, it will put 30 billion base-pairs of DNA sequence data from its work on the human, mouse and rat genomes into public databases. Much of it will duplicate data that is already publicly available, but it will help scientists 'double check' the information. Collins said that he gave 'a lot of credit' to Celera, adding that 'it does sort of makes the battle days of what appeared to be an unpleasant race a distant memory'.
Ex-Celera head Craig Venter said that he had been 'strongly in favour' of putting the company's genome data into the public domain, and said he felt that 'it sets a good precedent for companies who are sitting on gene and genome data sets that have little or no commercial value but would be of great benefit to the scientific community'.