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The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
"This is only the beginning"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 7 June, 2000, 08:31 GMT 09:31 UK
Genome rivals make friends
DNA BBC
DNA is slowly giving up its secrets
The two teams racing to decode the entire sequence of human DNA appear to have overcome their bitter differences.

In a remarkable show of solidarity, two of the key players held a joint, impromptu briefing on Tuesday and regaled journalists with comments of unprecedented warmth about one another.

The end of hostility between Dr Craig Venter, from the privately funded company Celera Genomics, and Dr Francis Collins, from the publicly funded Human Genome Project, will fuel speculation that a deal has been done over a joint announcement of the completion of the human genome.

Both groups are close to completing a "working draft" of the code and have set June as their deadline. BBC News Online understands that Celera reached the milestone last weekend; the HGP should pass the finishing line around the 15th of the month.

Public row

The start of the year saw a very public row when a deal to share data fell through, but it could be that both parties have finally come to an arrangement to at least share credit for working on the greatest project in the history of science.

"There's no reason for there to be wars,'' Dr Venter said at the genomics and cancer conference held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He emphasised his company's co-operative work with public sector scientists, in particular the joint effort to decode the fruit fly genome finished earlier this year.

Dr Collins and Dr Venter were said to have beamed at one another during the conference and then held an impromptu news briefing during a break to declare their dedication to co-operation.

"Competition is a good thing. It gets people going. It gets the blood flowing,'' said Dr Collins, head of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). He said the media had exaggerated the image of Celera and the Human Genome Project competing in a race.

"The footrace (idea) hasn't quite worked,'' Dr Collins said. ''I hope you guys are tired of it because we sure are.''

Nearly done

He said his team had nearly finished a first version of the genome sequence.

"Our best estimates are that we are in there within a whisker of 90% of the genome,'' Dr Collins noted, saying the US, UK, Japanese, German and other teams had worked on a ''rather amazing timetable''.

Dr Venter also played down any suggestion that the two sides were at odds, saying that collaboration was almost inevitable. "I don't think there are enough people working in this field,'' he said.

Dr Collins recognised that Celera would eventually make its information available to paying subscribers, but would also provide the raw data on the Internet.

"I give a lot of credit to Celera, that they are willing to take this data in which they have invested hundreds of millions of dollars and make it available to the academic community,'' Dr Collins said.

And in the end, publicity was good, Dr Venter said. "Even though it has been painful to both of us, one of the good side-effects of this is the world is more aware of genomics,'' he said.

These comments contrast strongly with some the statements each side has made about the other in recent months.

Dr Venter has frequently accused the HGP of squandering taxpayers money. For its part, the HGP has often attacked Dr Venter's motives and questioned the quality of the work done at Celera.

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