Genome project to publish results

BY ANNA CLARK
Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 12, 2001

It"s not the lunar landing, but according to scientific experts, it"s just as much of a landmark.

This morning, University Prof. Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, is expected to announce that the two separate initiatives to sequence the human genome are essentially complete.

The announcement is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. in Washington, D.C. The two organizations that have worked to assemble the genome will publish their results in two different journals.

The HGP will publish their findings in a special issue of the scientific journal Nature, while the privately-funded Celera Genomics will publish in Science. This coordination of the release of information comes after several years of competition between the two companies for developments in the sequencing.

Today"s announcement follows last summer"s statement that 85 percent of the human genome was sequenced.

But University Vice President for Medical Affairs Gil Omenn said today will be the first opportunity for scientists and researchers to compare both sets of data.

"In June 2000 everyone had a publicity blitz that the working draft was nearly completed. Today we see the results of all that research," Omenn said. "It"s a big deal."

The sequenced human genome is the mapping of all human DNA, including the genes and proteins, which determines variation and diseases in humans.

Experts confirm the historic implications of the assembled human genome.

"This is huge," said Stephen Gruber, director of the University Cancer Genetics Clinic. "In some respects, it"s equivalent to the lunar landing for scientists. And the fact that they got this done ahead of time and under budget is remarkable."

Gruber, a University assistant medical professor, added that the sequenced genome provides enormous possibilities for discovery.

Gruber said one of the things that surprised him the most is how few genes humans have, noting that it is only about twice as many as worms.

"Questions many of us haven"t even thought of can now be answered now that we have an assembled human genome," Gruber said.

John Moran, an assistant professor of genetics at the University, said he agrees the genome data provides an important resource for future research.

"This is the first time a blueprint of what it is to be human is in front of us," Moran said.

While the HGP has publicized developments on their website as they discovered them, Celera will only be offering limited access after today"s announcements.

University Law Prof. Rebecca Eisenberg said Celera is trying to provide public access to some of their data and sell access to other information. She added that they are working to find a balance so their public access doesn"t undermine the value of their private information.

While the potential discoveries are exciting, scientists are already learning from the human genome information.

Meisler added that about 75 percent of university biological labs are already taking advantage of the genome information.

Omenn said the University will be one of many beneficiaries of the data.

"This is very valuable research to the University of Michigan, as well as throughout the world," he said.