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After the Genome

The data, however, will be good enough to take to market. Venter has said he will give away the raw sequence for free by downloading it into the online public repository known as GenBank. So what’s left to sell? Quite a lot. Celera’s profits may come largely from licensing to pharmaceutical companies a database that packages the sequence into a more accessible form. Drug companies will mine the data for genes with medical applications, although Venter says Celera will first find and patent several hundred genes for itself. Celera will also hold onto information about single DNA letters that vary between people called “single nucleotide polymorphisms.” These differences may predict a person’s susceptibility to disease or to toxic drug reactions. And beyond the human genome lie others. Monsanto, the large agricultural concern, has already suggested that Celera take on the rice genome.

As Venter likes to point out, finishing the human sequence is simply the beginning of a new era in which the data can be put to use to improve human health. If Celera’s plans work out, this “post-genomic” epoch will be upon us sooner than anticipated. In fact, Celera advanced the timeline for reading the genome before a single wall had been knocked down for the factory’s renovation. Reacting to the unexpected competition, directors of the publicly funded Human Genome Project have announced that they now plan to knock off the entire project by 2003, two years earlier than the original schedule called for. And by 2001, when Celera has promised to unveil its data, public-sector scientists have vowed to come through with a “working draft” to match it. Public genome or private, celerity is definitely the order of the day.

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Tagged: Biomedicine

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