Private Company Makes Waves in Genomic Research
Craig Venter, a former NIH researcher, is the founder of Celera. The Maryland company's motto is "Discovery Can't Wait."
Venter pioneered a radical alternative to the consortium's "clone-by-clone" sequencing technique known as "whole genome shotgun cloning." Combined with massive technology and reliance on existing consortium data, Venter employed the shotgun technique to counter the consortium's head startand trigger a war of words over whose method was faster, cheaper and more accurate, whose work was more derivative and whose publication policies best served science.
Numerous pot shots laterand after the consortium hit the gas to match Celerathe two sides agreed to jointly announce completion of separate draft versions of the human genome in June 2000. Likewise, they jointly published articles describing their findings last Februarywith the consortium's version appearing in Nature and Celera's in Science.
Each party claimed superior, if not totally dissimilar, results. In neither case, however, is their version of the genome complete. Both parties still must plug significant gapsstretches of DNA where the chemical sequence that comprises the genome remains uncharted.
For UW Professor Philip Green, those patches of Swiss cheese in the consortium's sequence are one of several troubling consequences of Celera's entry into the genome derby.
Had it been up to Green, the Human Genome Project would have skipped publishing a draft sequence and stuck by its original plan of waiting until it could publish a "clean final sequence"a much more efficient approach, he says.
"Unfortunately, the reason they didn't do that was the competition with Celera," says Green.
Recently elected to the National Academy of Sciences, Green is a professor of molecular biotechnology and adjunct professor of computer science, disciplines that intersect at precisely the point where exploration of the human genome begins.
At its core, genetics is all about biology. But without computers, scientists couldn't begin to juggle the billions of variables that must be sifted and sorted in search of the minute chemical clues that disclose distinct genes.