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The BBC's Niall Dickson
"This is just the start"
 real 28k

The BBC's David Concar
"Scientists hope to develop new drugs, tailored to each person's genetic make-up"
 real 28k

Dr Francis Collins, HGP
"This is a milestone along a truly unprecedented voyage"
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Dr Craig Venter, Celera Genomics
"We are clearly much more than the sum total of our genes"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 27 June, 2000, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
Genetic revolution work begins
Scientists are now unravelling the code for life
Scientists are beginning the work of understanding the "book of life", after unveiling what has been described as one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time.

This is the outstanding achievement not only of our lifetime but in terms of human history

Dr Michael Dexter, Wellcome Trust
International teams of scientists jointly announced on Monday that they had obtained a near-complete copy of the biochemical code for human life.

In the future, the data will make it possible to banish inherited disorders, screen people for their vulnerability to diseases, tailor treatment to an individual's genetic make-up, create thousands of new drugs and extend human lifespan.

However, although scientists have the raw "code of life", it will take decades to find all the genes that are written in the code and describe their functions.

One scientist said it was like being given a book in a foreign language - first the language has to be learned and only then can the book be read and understood.

"Wondrous map"

US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed the rough draft as "the most wondrous map ever produced by human kind".

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They said society had a duty to use the new information responsibly and for the benefit of all humankind. Critics expressed the fear that the new knowledge would be used to discriminate against those with "inferior" genes or to create "designer people".

Mr Clinton and Mr Blair saluted the efforts of the scientists
But those behind the landmark announcement said it was unlikely that knowing the human genetic code would lead to people's inherited characteristics - the germline - being manipulated.

Dr Francis Collins, leader of the US Human Genome Project (HGP) said so little was known about the one million proteins that are encoded by genes that attempting to permanently manipulate the germline was fraught with dangers.

"I know of no responsible investigator who wants to go into the germline because of the real safety and ethical issues," he said.

Dr Craig Venter, the man behind Celera Genomics, the private company that announced its own "first assembly" of the code simultaneously with publicly funded researchers, was in agreement. "Until we thoroughly understand how this biology works, I don't know of anyone who would do this work," he said.

Scientific co-operation

The announcement marked the reconciliation of publicly and privately funded researchers, who had both been racing to produce a first draft of the code. They spent recent months in acrimonious rows, arguing over ownership and access to the data.

Mr Clinton heralded the end of these arguments by announcing a programme of co-operation between the parties: "The public and private efforts are committed to publishing their genomic data simultaneously later this year. They will then join together for an historic sequence analysis conference."

The first draft has been completed years ahead of schedule thanks to the introduction of new robotic technology and the competition sparked by Celera and its alternative method of sequencing the genome.

Deciphering the first draft of the human genome has been a monumental task and was rated on Monday as being more important than the discovery of the wheel.

Scientists have spent ten years and $300m reading the three billion chemical "letters" strung out along the DNA spirals at the heart of nearly all our cells.

One third was done by UK researchers, who said efforts would continue to fill in the gaps in the genome knowledge. So far, 97% of the genome has been mapped, with 85% of the code sequenced and assembled into the correct order.

The work to fill in the missing links and raise the accuracy of the data to the final "gold standard" of 99.99% is expected to take at least another two years.

Even then, scientists acknowledge, our understanding of the human genome will still be at a very primitive stage.

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See also:

27 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
World press hails genome success
26 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Gene row is over
26 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
What they said: Genome in quotes
26 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Leaders' genetic code warning
26 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Rough draft: The audio and video
26 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
G-Day for biology
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