Filling the Holes in Draft Genome
As consortium scientists gear up to fill the holes they left in the draft sequencea process that will take three yearsGreen worries about a possible loss of momentum due to release of a draft.
Moving methodically, consortium scientists had been meticulously exploring specific regions of the genome, with priority placed on those regions linked to particular diseases. The strategy was akin to creating a map of the United States by creating maps of all the terrain within each state, one state at a time.
Then along came Celera, and instead of waiting until 2003 to publish a complete and thorough map, the consortium began jumping from one state to the next without accounting for every bit of terrain. That way it could publish a completeif not perfectly thoroughdraft sequence in time to match Celera.
Olson says it was unfortunate that consortium leaders got caught in the "breathlessness that crept into the system" after Celera's arrival. On the other hand, "the draft provided lots of data that people are using today sooner than they would have."
Green believes changing strategies wasted money and produced little benefitother than boosting the bottom line of Celera's sister company, Applied Biosystems.
That company produces the powerful machines scientists use to extract strands of DNA from cells. Celera deployed an armada of the devices right from the start, forcing the consortium to do the same if it wanted to keep up, says Green.
"Applied Biosystems is like an arms merchant that supplies both sides in a war," says Green.
Green believes publishing the draft poses an ongoing risk for the Human Genome Project. By creating the perception that the remaining work is a "mop-up operation," the draft may discourage some scientists from seeing the project through, he says.
If that's the case, why did consortium leaders dump their original strategy? "They were disturbed about the possibility that Celera would patent the whole genome," says Green.
And that's not all. "The stakes are pretty high here because people think there is a Nobel Prize involved," he says.
If so, it would slap Nobel book ends on a chapter of science that began when James Watson and Francis Crick won the 1962 prize for discovering the double-helix structure of DNA.