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Human Genome Project

Competition Between The Public And Private Sectors

Dr. Craig Venter, a scientist at the NIH, felt that private companies could sequence genomes faster than publicly funded laboratories. For this reason he founded a biotechnology company called the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR). In 1995 TIGR published the first completely sequenced genome, that of the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae. TIGR was soon joined by other biotechnology companies that competed directly with the publicly funded Human Genome Project.

Among these other biotech firms is Celera Genomics, founded in 1998 by Venter in conjunction with the Perkin-Elmer Corporation, manufacturer of the world's fastest automatic DNA sequencers. Celera's goal was to privately sequence the human genome in direct competition with the public efforts supported by the NIH and DOE and the governments of several foreign countries. Using 300 Perkin-Elmer automatic DNA sequencers along with one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, Celera sequenced the genomes of several model organisms with remarkable speed and, in April 2000, announced that it had a preliminary sequence of the human genome.

In order eventually to make a profit, these biotech companies were patenting DNA sequences and intended ultimately to charge clients, including researchers, for access to their databases. This issue of patenting had already caused controversy. Watson felt strongly that the sequence data flowing from the Human Genome Project should remain within the public domain, freely available to all. Meeting opposition to this view, he stepped down from his position as director of the NIH-sponsored project in 1992 and was succeeded by Francis Collins.

Other researchers shared Watson's view, and in 1996 the international consortium of publicly funded laboratories agreed at a meeting in Bermuda to release all data to GenBank, a genome database maintained by NIH. The agreement reached by these scientists came to be known as "The Bermuda Principles," and it mandated that sequence data would be posted on the Internet within 24 hours of acquisition. Because the information is freely available to the public, the sequences can not be patented. The dispute between Celera Genomics and the International Human Genome Consortium continues, as scientists now begin the task of searching the genome for valuable information.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 2Human Genome Project - Origins Of The Human Genome Project, Competition Between The Public And Private Sectors, Progress In The Human Genome Project