NEW YORK, March 28 - Researchers will be allowed only limited public access to Syngenta's rice-sequence data when a major paper on the genome is published in Science next week, the journal said on Thursday.
At the same time, Syngenta said that it is working out a special data-sharing agreement to make sequence information available to an international public coalition of rice-genome scientists. Details of that agreement have not yet been hammered out, said a company spokesperson.
The announcements are connected to an upcoming special issue of Science devoted to the rice genome, scheduled to be published on April 5.
Syngenta's decision to share some data with the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project may help to quiet a growing controversy about public access to data gathered through privately funded sequence projects. But the decision by Science to allow Syngenta to publish without making its data available in Genbank will undoubtedly spur further debate.
The journal was sharply criticized last year for allowing Celera Genomics to publish its human genome-sequence paper without making all data freely available. As word spread in the scientific community this winter about the forthcoming rice genome paper, a group of prominent researchers wrote a letter to Science asking the journal not to make the same exemption for Syngenta.
Syngenta sells seeds and herbicides, and unlike Celera does not have a financial interest in marketing sequence data. However, the company wants to ensure that rivals will be unable to use its data to patent commercially important genes
On Thursday, Science released a statement outlining its terms for public data access. Information will be available under restrictions similar to those that Celera used. Specifically:
· Syngenta was not obligated to add its data to Genbank.
· Researchers may access Syngenta data in order to validate or challenge the Science paper.
· Academic researchers are allowed free access to up to 100 kb of data per week with no reach-through rights; those wanting more must submit a letter certifying not-for-profit intent.
· Commercial researchers must make other arrangements with Syngenta.
Syngenta's rice genome data will be an asset to public researchers working on the plant, experts say. Researchers at the Beijing Genomic Institute have completed a draft sequence of the indica rice strain, and an international consortium is set to finish a 10x draft of the japonica strain by the end of 2002.
Rice is one of the most important commercial crops and is an essential food for about half of the world's population. In addition, researchers hope that it will prove to be a valuable model plant for other grains like corn and wheat.
At about 400 Mb, the rice genome is the smallest of the major crops. It includes roughly 60,000 to 65,000 genes.