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Dr John Sulston
"The public should know."
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Monday, 6 March, 2000, 12:29 GMT
Gene firm labelled a 'con job'
Human chromosomes - contentious coils of DNA
Human chromosomes - contentious coils of DNA
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

Dr John Sulston, director of the Sanger Centre, Britain's leading gene-sequencing lab, has attacked the American company Celera Genomics and its director Dr Craig Venter over their intention to make money selling a combination of public and private DNA data.

Dr John Sulston
Dr John Sulston
In an escalation of the international war of words over the use of genetic information from the project to read the human genome, our DNA blueprint, Dr Sulston said that the public has got to know what is really going on.

"It would be hilarious if it wasn't so serious for all of us," he told the BBC.

'Con job'

Celera Genomics is using private money to compile its own human genome database. Because of the technique it uses to 'sequence' human DNA the company requires the addition of data from publicly funded institutions like the Sanger Centre, to complete its goal.

Dr Sulston said that Celera "hoover up all the public data, add a bit of their own and sell it as a packaged product. It is fair enough if people want to buy it. That's up to them."

Genes are our birthright

Dr John Sulston
But he added that the Celera data is something of a "con job," saying that they are "pretending to do something they are not."

Dr Sulston draws the line at patenting this information and allowing a private company to own intellectual property rights to genes. Genes are our birthright he says and nobody should own them this way.

Following discussions between the Sanger Centre and Celera Genomics Dr Sulston added: "The emerging truth is absolutely extraordinary. They really intend to establish a complete monopoly position on the human genome for a period of at least five years."

"People ought to know about it."

But if private companies intend to make money from human DNA data should not publicly funded institutions be a little more reticent about releasing all their data to the public?

No, says Dr Sulston: "We are doing exactly the right thing."

As well as the ethical considerations of 'owning' human genes Dr Sulston said that the danger was that Celera Genomics will get its way and persuade politicians to reduce public funding for genome studies in the belief that it can all be done by private companies.

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