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With Two Genomics Milestones on the Horizon, NHGRI Eyes the Commemorative Postage Stamp

NEW YORK, May 31 - What do Elvis, Louis Armstrong, the Hubble space telescope, and genomics have in common?


If the National Human Genome Research Institute has its way, the answer may be the US postage stamp.


The NHGRI is hoping a first-class postage stamp will nicely commemorate the dual genomics milestones due next April--the 50-year anniversary of the discovery of the double helix and the formal completion of the human genome sequence.


But the process of winning approval for a postage-stamp concept is no small challenge, according to Alan Guttmacher, an advisor to Francis Collins at the NHGRI. The fate of a lickable-and-stickable dedication, by no means a done deal, rests as much with the US government as with Watson's and Crick's (and Collins' and Venter's) disciples.


"Our original hope had been--and it turns out a naïve one--that one could get approval of such a concept and actually have a postage stamp by next April," Guttmacher told GenomeWeb in a recent interview. "But that's not going to happen. It's a several-year process and we're just now getting into the ground work of ... whether there would be enough support for this within the genetic community."


"We're still going to move forward with the idea," Guttmacher said.


The idea was hatched not long ago by a pack of NHGRI heavies sitting around one afternoon thinking up ways to mark the milestones, according to Guttmacher, who also is a co-chair of an NHGRI committee charged with spearheading the commemorative effort.


"I think what it speaks to is not so much that a postage stamp per se does anything so meaningful, but it grew out of this idea that we want to utilize April 2003 to celebrate these accomplishments," he said. "And that's nice." But the larger purpose of the stamp, he said, would be as a means to interest elementary and high-school students and the general public in genomics.


For the record, the postal commission, not the NHGRI, will be responsible for creating the design if the stamp concept gets a green light, said Guttmacher.


The NHGRI isn't the only group gearing up to celebrate the April milestones. The UK, site of the double helix discovery made on April 25 a half century ago, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York plan their own commemorative seminars (where Venter has been invited to speak), fora, lay events, and broad-based back slapping.

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