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Celera Pledges to Deposit Human Genome in GenBank, Release Assembler Source Code

NEW YORK, Feb. 10 (GenomeWeb News) - In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Celera Genomics has vowed to deposit the draft human genome sequence it published in 2001, as well as two more recent human genome assemblies, in GenBank.

The company also pledged to release the source code for its Celera Assembler genome assembly algorithm.

Celera's data was previously available only to corporate subscribers of its genome database, while non-subscribers had limited access to the data via the company's website -- an access policy that drew widespread criticism from the scientific community at the time of the initial publication of the draft sequence. Now, nearly three years to the day after the initial draft sequence was published, the company's data will be publicly available via GenBank.

With the commercial value for genomic databases steadily waning, the company has nothing to lose by releasing its data into the public domain. Celera began distancing itself from its information business several years ago as part of an effort to focus its resources on drug discovery, and just last week, Incyte announced plans to shutter its information business headquartered at Palo Alto, Calif.

But the release of the sequence may help bury the hatchet in an acrimonious verbal battle waged between Celera scientists and the International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium within the pages of PNAS over the last few years. In the latest PNAS paper, entitled "Whole-genome shotgun assembly and comparison of human genome assemblies," members of the original Celera team once again assert the virtues of their sequencing methodology in response to previous IHGSC papers that questioned "the independence of the genome assemblies reported by Celera." 

The paper compares Celera's whole-genome shotgun assembly (WGSA) with the most recent "finished" assembly from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (build 34, released July 2003). Not surprisingly, the authors -- most of them now affiliated with new organizations -- found that "a high-quality genome sequence can be assembled from the Celera proprietary data alone, independently of the IHGSC data and methods," and that "WGSA provides valuable additions and corrections to the nearly complete human genome, NCBI-34."

The paper may not be the last word in the debate, but the company's decision to release its sequence "to preserve the historical record and facilitate the ongoing analysis of the human genome" may signify a new era of good will in the ongoing dialogue -- at least, for those still paying attention.