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Today, 26/6/00, a joint announcement on the drafts of deciphering the human genome

Cooperation will advance the end of the project so that it will also be possible to identify the operation of the genes

After investing more than ten years of international effort, the scientists involved in deciphering the human genome will announce today in Washington the completion of the first draft of the project.

The two bodies competing to decipher the genome, or the book of life, as it is sometimes called, contains the genetic software that directs human development. Decoding means identifying the order of the sequence of DNA bases that together make up the human genome.

Already today scientists know thousands of mutations that can cause diseases and through the project it will be possible to speed up the rate of discovery of hundreds of thousands more mutations.

The project will also provide an infrastructure for identifying the 40 to 100 thousand genes in a person, and will allow biologists to comprehensively see the genetic processes responsible for human development, memory and aging. "What is important in obtaining the genome sequence, and which no one dreamed of ten years ago, is the global perspective it gives us," said Prof. Hermona Sorek, a molecular biologist from the Hebrew University.

About fifty official companies are partners in the public project. Israel, which is also a partner in the project, took part in the international consortium, which in May finished deciphering chromosome number 21, an extra copy of which causes Down syndrome.

The drafts that the two bodies will present today are very different from each other. The draft of the public project consists of large DNA segments, of which at least 95% have already been deciphered. To be sure that the DNA sequence is accurate, the sequencing process must be repeated ten times. The project scientists have completed the floor between six and eight times so far.

Celera works in a different way. She "explodes" the entire genome into millions of small pieces, identifies them, and then reassembles them into their original order with the help of a computer program she developed. Celera has only repeated the sequencing of the genome three times and is still far from completing the connection between the millions of small fragments in her hand.

In order to put all the pieces together, she must use the data that the scientists of the public project deposited on a website, which is updated daily and which is freely accessible.

The heads of the public project voiced strong criticism against Celera's plan to use this data. They claimed that if Celera published a decoded copy of the genome based in part on the public project data, and did not give this project credit, it would be an unethical act. In any case, Celera does not intend to publish its version of the genome decoding in the meantime.

Prof. Doron Lantz, head of the Crown Genome Center at the Weizmann Institute of Science, said yesterday that today's announcement does not fundamentally change the existing information. The reason he said is that Celera does not intend to present the draft today anyway, and the information that the public project has is already in the internet database and has been accessible to everyone for a long time.

The two bodies competing for the decoding of the genome, the American Celera company and the Public Genome Project, are discussing the possibility of cooperation in the remaining tasks for the decoding of the human genome.

In order to obtain a complete copy of the genome, another procedure must be performed, which is considered difficult and important and is known as "interpreting the genome". In this process, the presumed roles of the various genes are identified.

The negotiations between the two competing companies, which have been going on for several weeks and so far appear to be fruitful negotiations, may lead to cooperation, in which a better copy of the genome can be obtained.

The collaboration may even advance the original target date for decoding the genome set by the two companies: 2003 for the public project and 2001 for the Celera company.
{Appeared in Haaretz newspaper, 26/6/2000}

* The Hidan site was part of the IOL portal from the Haaretz group until 2002

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