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Data Access Dj Vu: Journal Finds Itself at Center of Another Debate

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A year after sparking a furor within the scientific community by publishing Celera’s human genome draft sequence without requiring submission of the data in Genbank, Science found itself at the center of another debate with last week’s publication of Syngenta’s draft sequence of the rice genome.

Despite a letter-writing campaign led by several prominent researchers, Science again permitted a commercial entity to control access to its supporting data through its own website, www.tmri.org (see table on p. 5 for access details). Just as it did with Celera, Science is maintaining a copy of Syngenta’s database in escrow.

While Syngenta has no intention to commercialize the data in the form of a database product, as Celera has, the company expressed concern that commercial rivals might be able to patent commercially useful genes if given immediate, unrestricted access to the data.

Syngenta has also gone a step further than Celera in removing some restrictions to its data: It will allow academic researchers to patent findings and has also offered the sequence to the IRGSP to help it reach its goals of sequencing the genome to 99.99% accuracy. According to Steven Briggs, head of Syngenta’s Torrey Mesa Research Institute, the data will most likely appear in Genbank after a 12-18 month window in which the company feels it has “a significant commercial advantage.”

“I think that, in fact, Syngenta, by posting the sequence data on its own website, has met the requirement for public access,” said Donald Kennedy, editor in chief at Science. “I understand the concern from the bioinformatics community that it’s not in Genbank, and that will come about, but not right away.”

Syngenta pointed out that it was the first organization to fund the IRGSP in the US, with a $3 million grant to Clemson University to fund development of the physical map of the genome. The company said it has already released a total of 45 million nucleotides of rice genome sequence to Genbank.

— BT

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