LONDON--The Wellcome Trust, one of the world's largest private funders of biomedical research, said here yesterday that it will double its spending on efforts to sequence every gene in the human genome. The trust also threatened to sue to block anyone attempting to patent gene sequences.
The move comes in response to the announcement earlier this week of a new U.S. company, launched by sequencing-machine manufacturer Perkin-Elmer and J. Craig Venter of The Institute for Genomic Research, that plans a brute-force approach to sequencing the human genome within 3 years (ScienceNOW, 12 May ). The trust now plans to increase its spending from $160 million to $325 million over 7 years at the Sanger Centre near Cambridge--Britain's main gene sequencing laboratory--for more painstaking efforts to sequence a third of the human genome by 2005.
Wellcome Trust managers and sequencing researchers from the Sanger Centre endorsed the publicly funded genome project's approach at a meeting this week. "We believe this is the way to ensure a complete and reliable sequence," says Michael Morgan, the trust's program director for genetics research. "But we remain utterly flexible about the future strategy if new technology is developed."
Morgan fears that a commercial sequencing effort will deny researchers unfettered access to sequence data. "We are worried that companies will try to patent basic sequence information," he says, "but we will challenge any such patent applications."