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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 13:27 GMT


'Working draft' of human genome by 2000

The human genome is a three-billion-long sequence of jus four chemical markers

The ambitious project to map all the genes in human DNA has taken a leap forward.

British and American scientists announced on Monday that a "working draft" of the human genome will be completed by February 2000. This is at least a year earlier than the previous timetable predicted.

[ image: Dr John Sulston:
Dr John Sulston: "Data plays vital role"
The working draft will list around 90% of the approximate 100,000 genes that form the blueprint for human life. The Sanger Centre in the UK will provide one third of the data, with the rest coming from US laboratories and some other centres world-wide.

The earlier date has become possible because the US centres funded by the National Institute of Health have completed pilot projects of new analytical technology early.

The Wellcome Trust, which funds the Sanger Centre, is to release £48m of earmarked funding early to increase the speed of its contribution to the Human Genome Project.

The US National Human Genome Research Institute is awarding over $80m to three genome centres in the States to enable the US team to fulfil their role.

US Vice President Al Gore said: "I am extremely pleased that the Human Genome Project has accelerated efforts to complete one of the most important scientific projects in human history. The Project will forever change how we understand the human body and disease."

Watch the Sanger Centre in action

"The Sanger Centre was working more quickly, so it needed more equipment and staff to keep up the pace," a Wellcome Trust spokesperson told BBC News Online.

Dr John Sulston, director of the Sanger Centre, said: "At the Sanger Centre, we will be contributing our third early next year. The scientific community want this data immediately as it plays a vital role in understanding the very basis of life, health and disease."

[ image: The Sanger Centre will provide a third of the whole human genome]
The Sanger Centre will provide a third of the whole human genome
The final "high-quality" genome, with all gaps filled and most errors corrected, is expected in 2003. Between then and now, any new data made available is put on the Internet as soon as it becomes available.

Identifying the three-billion-long sequence of chemical markers which make up the human genome will be an astonishing achievement. But in a sense, it is only the beginning.

The "post-genome" science will be to work out what each of the mapped genes actually does in the body. Scientists only understand the function of a relatively tiny fraction of our genes at present.

At the moment, nearly 10% of the genome has been fully finished and 15% of the working draft is completed.

The Sanger Centre and its US counterpart, the Genome Sequencing Centre in St Louis, Missouri, recently completed the genetic sequence of the worm C. Elegans. It is the most complex genome sequenced so far with 19,000 genes.

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Internet Links

Sanger Centre

Human Genome Program: US Department of Energy

US National Human Genome Research Institute

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