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Vol.9, No.3   July 1998

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Private-Sector Sequencing Planned

New Venture Aims for Rapid Coverage of Genome

In May, J. Craig Venter [The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR)] announced plans to form a new company with Perkin-Elmer's Applied Biosystems Division (PE-ABD) to sequence a large portion of the human genome in 3 years for $300 million. The company plans to use several resources generated in the government-sponsored Human Genome Project (HGP). (See Bang for the Buck.) A report by Venter in Science [280(5369), 1540-42] called the plan a "mutually rewarding partnership between public and private institutions."

Delivering high-quality DNA sequence to the entire scientific community at the lowest possible cost has been the ultimate goal of HGP since its inception. Although DOE and NIH program managers welcomed the promise of substantial private-sector investment, they noted that the planned venture will be more like a rough draft rather than the publicly available, detailed "A-to-Z" recipe book promised by the genome project.

Positioning of sequencing subclones into the chromosomal puzzle is expected to be less certain sometimes than in more conservative strategies. Data release will be quarterly rather than immediate, as required of government-funded sequencing centers.

Sequencing Strategy

Plans for the new venture hinge on using BAC clone libraries being produced in the genome project. The capillary sequencing machine, now in beta testing, depends on sheath-flow detector technology. Venter expects to begin large-scale sequencing next spring, with 230 capillary sequencing machines running 10 times a day and generating 100 Mb of raw bases at a cost of about $.10 per base.

Processing raw data to produce finished sequence continues to be a major bottleneck in the sequencing process. The most productive sequencing centers each generated about 20 to 25 Mb of finished sequence last year, for a total of about 120 Mb. Around 200 Mb is expected for 1998.

The Venter-PE plan is to use whole-genome shotgun sequencing, a technique developed by TIGR to sequence much smaller and less complex bacterial genomes that typically have not presented the difficulties already encountered in some regions of human DNA. These include centromeric and telomeric areas and duplicated regions found throughout the genome.

Going for the Gold
Because commercial interests will guide the path of the new venture, the focus probably will be on such potentially lucrative genomic regions as susceptibility- and disease-associated sequences that can guide the development of new diagnostic and pharmaceutical products. The company expects to seek intellectual-property protection for 100 to 300 of these sequenced regions. Generating data on biologically important genomic locations can be of great value to researchers and consumers alike. However, genome maps at the highest level of resolution --those promised by the genome project--still will be needed as the ultimate tools for scientists to embark on a thorough investigation into human biological function in all its complexity.

Genome Project to Continue on Course
When members of the DOE and NIH advisory committees and program staff met with researchers in May to review a draft of a new 5-year plan for the U.S. genome project (FY 1999-FY 2003), they reaffirmed their commitment to delivering a full and highly accurate sequence of the human genome (see New 5-Year Plan). The approved plan will appear in Science in the fall.

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The electronic form of the newsletter may be cited in the following style:
Human Genome Program, U.S. Department of Energy, Human Genome News (v9n3).

Human Genome Project 1990–2003

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international 13-year effort, 1990 to 2003. Primary goals were to discover the complete set of human genes and make them accessible for further biological study, and determine the complete sequence of DNA bases in the human genome. See Timeline for more HGP history.

Human Genome News

Published from 1989 until 2002, this newsletter facilitated HGP communication, helped prevent duplication of research effort, and informed persons interested in genome research.