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Media Coverage of Genome Papers Publication As Varied As Opinions of Venter

NEW YORK, Feb 12 – Following a break of the news embargo on Sunday by The Observer of London, coverage of the human genome papers in many media outlets on Sunday and Monday offered widely disparate analyses of the papers’ significance.

In The Wall Street Journal , a glowing review of Celera’s results concluded that Craig Venter had succeeded in producing a “better, more user-friendly” version of the genome, and focused on the company’s success in finding subscribers to its database, even at government and academic institutions.

The Globe and Mail , in Toronto, offered similar praise, quoting Steve Scherer, an associate director at the Center for Applied Genomics at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children as saying " it's safe to say Celera's data is twice as good."

By contrast, The Los Angeles Times analyzed the path Celera took to acquire its map, saying that Venter had “basically abandoned” his whole genome shotgun strategy for sequencing the genome by relying on public data to assemble the final version. Nevertheless, Times writer Aaron Zitner included comments from scientists implying that Celera had obtained a higher quality sequence.

Other newspapers took more nonpartisan approaches. Nicholas Wade in The New York Times analyzed the scientific implications of the papers, highlighting the small number of genes (~300) that differ between the human and mouse genome, and the lack of evidence for the accidental doubling explanation for how the human genome evolved from more primitive animals.

In The Washington Post , a piece by Justin Gillis sidestepped the issue of whether Venter’s shotgun method succeeded, saying Celera’s shift in strategy away from the controversial approach made it impossible to judge its merits.

And  The Observer on Sunday presented the fewer-than-expected number of genes in the human genome as evidence that environment, not genetics, is the “key to our acts.”

Of the reports, The Wall Street Journal’s story on page A3 surely made the best impression on Celera. The writer, Scott Hinsley, quotes Nat Goodman, senior vice president at genomics consulting firm 3 rd Millenium as saying “anyone who can afford to buy Celera should buy Celera” and cites several unnamed drug and biotech companies that have made important discoveries from Celera’s data.

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