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Friday, 8 December, 2000, 17:25 GMT
Genome data access row
Scanning probe microscope image of human chromosomes
Microscope image of human chromosomes
A private company that is deciphering the human genome has sparked controversy with the way it plans to publish a giant database of human DNA sequences.

The firm, Celera Genomics, which has submitted the data for publication in the journal Science, has been granted special arrangements for access to its genetic information.

The journal usually deposits DNA sequences linked with published research papers into a public repository, GenBank, that is freely available to all.

But on this occasion Celera will be allowed to keep the data on its website instead. Academic researchers will be able to access the information for free but commercial companies will have to pay for it.

Celera used private funds to pay for its DNA sequencing and does not want to release its data through a public database. However, the genetic sequence information gathered by the rival, publicly funded Human Genome Project is deposited in GenBank for open access.

Anger

In a statement explaining its decision, Science said it would be keeping a copy of the database in escrow "to insure that there will be no changes in the ability of the public to have full access to the data".

The decision has provoked an angry reaction among some scientists.

"Science magazine seems confused about the purpose of scientific publication," Dr Eric Lander, one of the leaders of the Human Genome Project in the US, told an American newspaper. "If authors can restrict the ways that readers can use knowledge, the pace of discovery will be slowed and the public will lose."

And Michael Ashburner, a geneticist at Cambridge University, has issued an open letter criticising Science for considering Celera's paper on "special terms".

The Human Genome Project, which has also produced a version of the human DNA sequence, is reported to be on the verge of submitting its information to a scientific journal.

The two versions of the human genome are expected to be published at the same time. The news that scientists had completed the first draft of "the book of life" was announced in the summer, in a joint announcement by the two groups.

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