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In Bruising Article, HGP Scientists Trounce Celera s Sequencing Effort

NEW YORK, March 5 - They're at it again.

The long-simmering struggle over two competing versions of the human genome erupted in print again on Tuesday as the backers of the publicly funded Human Genome Project lobbed fresh accusations that Celera's sequence leaned too heavily on public data.


In a paper published in the March 5 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Washington University's Robert Waterston, Whitehead Institute's Eric Lander, and the Sanger Institute's John Sulston, all leaders in the public project, claim that Celera essentially cribbed their work in order to finish its whole genome shotgun version of the human genome.


The company's genome assembly, the authors argue, depended on the work that the HGP had already done. Since Celera "shredded" the assembled HGP data and integrated them within their own, the company's data crunchers effectively preserved the public project's assembly information. Celera assemblies also relied heavily on the public project's STS maps and clone-based sequence and map data, the authors assert.


The Celera scientists "did not perform an analysis of their own data by itself," they write in their article, which is the first time a critique of Celera's research appears as an article in a peer-reviewed journal. "Instead, they used an unorthodox approach to incorporate simulated data from the HGP."


As a result, the authors contend, Celera failed to prove that the whole-genome shotgun method is powerful enough to decode and reassemble complex mammalian genomes.


"Our analysis indicates that the Celera paper provides neither a meaningful test of the WGS approach nor an independent sequence of the human genome," they write.


Nonetheless, the HGP researchers are careful to praise the whole-genome shotgun technique for simpler bacterial genomes, and write that computational improvements will likely make the method appropriate for mammalian genome projects as well.


PNAS plans to post Celera's rebuttal online on March 19.


Former Celera President Craig Venter is quoted by the Associated Press on Tuesday saying that the paper is devoid of "substantive science" and represents "game-playing at the worst level in academics."


Celera did not respond to requests for comment.

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