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Celera s Submission to Science Fuels Controversy, Journal Responds

NEW YORK, Dec 7- Celera’s Wednesday evening announcement that it had submitted its human genome sequence data to Science has already provoked controversy in the scientific community and fueled speculation about how the Human Genome Project data will be published, leading Science to issue a statement Thursday to clarify the way it is handling Celera’s submission.

Science is now receiving inquiries about the submission of a paper from the research group at Celera Genomics, presenting findings about the human genome sequence,” the statement said. “These inquiries have focused on the agreements between Science and Celera regarding the availability of the full sequence to other scientists and the general public.”

In fact, rumors have been circulating through the scientific community as to whether HGP will now be publishing its sequence data in Nature to protest the arrangement between Celera and Science , in which Celera is being allowed to publish its data on its own website rather than in GenBank, a source close to HGP told GenomeWeb.

But Kathy Hudson, director of policy and public affairs for NHGRI, said there is no merit to this speculation. “We have continued very productive, collegial ongoing discussions with Celera to do everything we can to make sure we publish our data simultaneously,” Hudson said. The two expect to publish their findings in late January or early February, she added.

The simultaneous publication, however, does not mean that HGP and Celera will publish their findings in the same journal. Science editors said it would be “wonderful” if both the HGP and Celera were to simultaneously publish their findings in Science . “But we don’t know the answer to that question yet,” said Ginger Pinholster, the magazine’s associate director of news and information. Nature editors had no comment on whether the magazine would consider a submission by the HGP.

But even if it turns out that HGP submits its data to Nature or some other publication, Hudson said this would be nothing new: joint publication has never been part of the agreement. The two organizations have separately prepared their data for submission, and HGP has not participated in Celera’s negotiations with Science , said Hudson. And unlike Celera, HGP will not publicly announce a submission to a journal before its data is actually published. " We are going to go down the traditional route,” said Hudson.

Meanwhile, in the agreement with Science , Celera has agreed to make its entire sequence available free to academic users for searches, downloading, and research on its website. If researchers wish to download over one megabase, however, they will have to make a formal agreement not to redistribute the data. Commercial users also will be able to access this data, as long as they sign a material transfer agreement not to commercialize the results or redistribute the sequence.

This agreement is unusual in that researchers have previously been required to submit their sequence data to Genbank. But Celera’s stipulation that it make its data available through its own website “is not a heretical notion,” the Science editors said in their statement. Quoting a previous Nature editorial, they argued “the conditions of access and the community’s confidence in the long-term sustainability and accessibility of the database are what count.”

To maintain this “community confidence,” Science has agreed to keep a copy of the complete sequence in escrow.

Science Editor-in-Chief Donald Kennedy sought the input of a range of people he calls “wise heads” in deciding how to handle the submission from Celera, according to Pinholster. These advisors included chemist George Whitesides of Harvard, geneticist Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins, and legal expert Rebecca Eisenberg of University of Michigan Law School.

But Science does not expect this statement to douse the flames of controversy surrounding its potential publication of Celera’s data. “Don Kennedy has acknowledged that this is an extremely controversial topic that is right now creating some anxiety in the scientific community,“ said Pinholster.

And there is still the remote likelihood that Celera’s submissions might not be accepted, pointed out Richard Wilson, co-director of the Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“It is very unusual to have a press release to announce that you are submitting a paper,” commented Wilson. “It sure would be embarrassing if it didn’t get accepted. But I suppose business is business. If Celera is going to make a public release of its data, it might affect the stock price.”

Celera did not return calls seeking comment.

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