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A Rivalry That Never Ends

The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History unveiled an exhibit earlier this year celebrating the work done to produce the human genome as well as to highlight ongoing studies based off that undertaking.

Laura Helmuth at Slate points out that the exhibit, which was put together in conjunction with the US National Institutes of Health, ties its opening this year to the 10th anniversary of the sequencing of the human genome. Promotional materials for the exhibit, she notes, say: "It took nearly a decade, three billion dollars, and thousands of scientists to sequence the human genome in 2003." Except, as she writes, the human genome papers appeared in Science and Nature in 2001.

To Helmuth, this represents a grab by NIH for credit for the sequencing project when, of course, there were two rival endeavors, one represented by NIH and Francis Collins and the other by Celera and Craig Venter. "By designating 2003 as the year the genome was sequenced, the NIH is still fighting against Celera," she says. "It's laying exclusive claim for credit and trying to push its rival out of the history books. It's trying to give the leaders of the public consortium an edge in the battle for the inevitable Nobel Prize." The Nobel, she notes, can only be split three ways.

A spokesperson from the National Human Genome Research Institute tells her that the agency is celebrating this year — it did also host an event in 2011— as "2003 marked the final release of the genome sequence, and the research the institute does now is widely based off of it. … 2003 marks the year that the Human Genome Project was completed and the completed genome sequence was released. "

"The race was on to publish in 2001, and the headlines were in 2001, and all the proclamations that the genome had at least been sequenced were in February of 2001. If, from some perspectives, that makes for a messier story, oh well," adds Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline.