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Questions follow human genome decoding celebrations

The decoding of the human genome, announced yesterday by the Human Genome Project (HGP), has been welcomed by most key players in European research, but questions remain about its future development. 'The decoding of the human genome, the deciphering of the book of life, is ...

The decoding of the human genome, announced yesterday by the Human Genome Project (HGP), has been welcomed by most key players in European research, but questions remain about its future development. 'The decoding of the human genome, the deciphering of the book of life, is a milestone in science,' said French Research Minister Roger-Gerard Schwartzenberg. Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin also welcomed the news, but emphasised that debate of the issue, by both experts and the public, is required. Scientists from Germany, the UK, the USA, China, Japan and France worked on the decoding project, which cost an estimated $300m. One of the areas that has caused concern is the inclusion of Celera Genomics, a US information company, in the cracking of the code. Its commercial use of some of the information gained in the process could have a significant impact on the cost of research for companies in the areas such as pharmaceuticals in the coming years. This issue has been seized upon by the French socialist Marie-Noelle Lienemann, who in a letter to the European Commission asked whether its directive concerning human genetic heritage should be reviewed, as it in its present form it could lead to the commercial possession of genetic knowledge. More positively, conclusions have already been drawn from the information gathered in the project, with 97% of the data unravelled and 85% of it already in the correct order. A group of researchers from a number of countries, who have drawn a rough map of the human genome, have ruled out a link between human genes and ethnicity Craig Venter from Celera Genomics says his company sequenced the genome of people who identified themselves as Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian, and African American. 'In the five...genomes there is no way to tell one ethnicity from another,' he said.