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Genome Project Changes Course, Submits Sequence Paper to Nature

NEW YORK, Dec 13 - In the latest twist on the path to publish the human genome, the International Human Genome Project has abandoned initial plans to have its main sequence and analysis paper published in Science and has instead submitted it to Nature , GenomeWeb has learned.

“The paper was submitted to Nature , not to Science ,” said a spokeswoman for MIT’s Whitehead Institute, whose director, Eric Lander, is one of the leaders of the Genome Project.

The Genome Project had planned to publish multiple mapping and sequence papers simultaneously, submitting some to Science and some to Nature , sources close to the Genome Project said, but has only submitted the single paper so far. Future papers on the sequence are expected to be submitted for later publication.

On Tuesday GenomeWeb reported that The International Human Genome Project had submitted to Science its human genome sequence paper, and that the paper was scheduled to be run along with Celera’s genome sequence analysis in a special issue of the magazine due to be released in early February. Additional papers on the mapping of the genome were also submitted to Nature , said the source, who requested anonymity.

The source said that Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, had previously announced these moves in a closed meeting.

The last minute about-face comes as many prominent members of the scientific community continue to express concern about the special publication agreement between Celera and Science , in which Science agreed to publish Celera’s sequence paper under Celera’s stipulation that the data in the paper be available through its website under restricted conditions.  

Under the Celera-Science agreement, Celera will make the published sequence data available free to academic users, but researchers will have to agree in writing not to redistribute the data if they wish to download over one megabase. 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.

In light of the growing controversy Collins and other leaders of the Genome Project have sent Science a formal letter stating they would not submit the genome paper to Science because Science had opened the door for authors to impose similar restrictions on data they submit, a source close to the Human Genome Project told GenomeWeb.

Early this week, researchers Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute and Sean Eddy of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Washington University sent out a letter to their fellow bioinformaticists urging them to write Science to protest the Celera agreement.

“Bioinformatics research relies on open data with minimal legal encumbrances submitted to public databases,” wrote Birney and Eddy. “Without these databases there is no real substrate for bioinformatics research.”

Robert Waterston of Washington University in St. Louis, who co-signed the letter to Science , expressed similar sentiments. “I think it sets an unfortunate precedent,” said Waterston.   “If you are going to publish information in a paper the information should be unrestricted. The whole scientific community has been very well served by having all DNA sequence data in a single central database where anybody can go regardless of who sequenced it.”

Waterston said that multiple papers would be submitted to different scientific journals and that they would deal with different aspects of the human genome.

“One [paper] is the generation of the underlying map, the ordering and organization of the sequence,” Waterston said. “Another focuses on how the sequence was obtained and what it means.”

He did not indicate where the papers would be published but said they would run partially electronically and partially in print, since the articles are “a little larger than the normal paper.”

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