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Scientific milestone: The draft of the human genome is complete

"Today we are learning the language in which God created life," said the US president, Bill Clinton, at a press conference in honor of the publication of the draft in Washington.

The first draft of the genome - all of the human DNA - has been completed, the scientists deciphering the human genome announced yesterday. The genome, which has been identified almost in its entirety, contains three billion DNA units, in which is written the genetic software that directs human development, from the womb to death.

"Today we are learning the language in which God created life," said the US president, Bill Clinton, at a press conference in honor of the publication of the draft in Washington. He added that one must be careful of misuse of the new knowledge and discrimination against people who carry a mutation that can cause the disease.

The formation of the draft is defined by scientists as one of the greatest achievements in human history. Dr. John Selston of Cambridge, one of the leaders of the project, said that humanity now holds in its hand the "man's genetic operating software". Prof. Yoram Gruner, vice president of the Weizmann Institute, and member of the public consortium that finished deciphering chromosome number 21, said: "We should consider ourselves lucky that we are living and researching in a very scientifically exciting era." According to him, decoding the sequences shortened the period of time needed to identify new genes.

After months of competition and mutual slander, Dr. Craig Venter, president of Celera, and Dr. Francis Collins, who is responsible for the public genome project in the US, stood side by side yesterday, and shared compliments to each other. The two announced that they would also cooperate in further work on the genome. The announcement is of enormous importance, because cooperation between the parties - who use different but complementary methods in deciphering the genome - will speed up the completion of the project. Venter said Celera will release its raw decryption data by the end of the year. Until now, the company has refrained from publishing the information in its possession, but has processed it for the purpose of identifying genes for a fee.

The first draft of the public project contains about 97% of the genome. Among the decoded DNA sequences there are missing sections. Celera's draft contains about 99% of the genome, and the sequences are divided into millions of fragments, which the company has not yet finished connecting. The genome also contains sections that cannot be decoded with existing technologies, but these sections are not of medical interest, because they do not contain genes.

The announcement of the completion of the draft is more of a symbolic milestone than an actual scientific event. The DNA sequences decoded in the public project are deposited every 24 hours in an internet database. Celera already had her draft a few weeks ago. The Internet database has already helped scientists identify thousands of genetic mutations, which increase the chance of contracting diseases, and thus develop the tests for genetic diagnosis and a new type of medicine.

Celera shares fell by about 11% yesterday following the joint announcement of the completion of the genome draft. The company promised to be the first to publish the draft, but was eventually forced to do so together with the public project.

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