Celera Genomics, a 20-month-old firm that aims to sequence the entire human genome, announced today that it now has 90% of the genome's 3.18 billion base pairs in its private database. That coverage incorporates not only the results of Celera's own sequencing efforts, but also those of a consortium that is sequencing the genome with public funds and storing its results in publicly accessible databases.
The announcement doesn't mean that Celera, based in Rockville, Maryland, now has 90% of the job done. The company, a daughter of PE Biosystems, uses the so-called "shotgun method" to blast the genome into millions of snippets, which it sequences; it relies on large computers to eventually put the snippets back in the right order and find their places on each of the 23 chromosomes. The company, headed by J. Craig Venter, also tries to map every newly found base pair onto the sequences generated by the publicly funded Human Genome Project.
Because the correct assembly is the hardest part of Celera's method, the new milestone doesn't mean much, says Robert Waterston, who heads the public sequencing effort at Washington University in St. Louis--except perhaps to boost business. "Why else," he asks, "would [the company] do science by press conference?" Waterston says the Human Genome Project is churning out a comparable number of bases with a comparable number of sequencing machines and expects to have a rough draft of the human genome ready by March--with 90% of the bases placed correctly on the human chromosomes. Venter says his team will have the human genome done by the end of the year.
Based on a statistical analysis, Celera estimates that its sequence includes more than 97% of the estimated 80,000 human genes, Venter says. "We've discovered literally thousands and thousands of new genes," he says. Celera has filed for temporary patent protection on an undisclosed number of those genes, even though many may be represented in the database by only small fragments of the full gene.