Toward the Finish Line

Faced with competition and concerned that a private company might be able to control access to the human genome sequence, Francis Collins and the other Human Genome Project leaders rethought their goals and timeline. They decided that the government project would aim initially for a "working draft" covering 90 percent of the genome, rather than a complete sequence, and that it would complete this work by 2001, the same year Celera had named.

Several times during the next few years the government group and Celera tried to join forces, but their talks always broke down. The chief point of disagreement was the way that the genetic information being obtained would be published. Since 1996, the government project had posted all sequence data free in a publicly funded database on the Internet within 24 hours of its acquisition, with no restrictions on access to or use of the information. Venter agreed that the raw sequence data should be published, but he wanted commercial users to agree not to redistribute it. According to James Watson's DNA: The Secret of Life, Celera also planned to delay publishing its data for three months and sell subscriptions for advance viewing.

Most of the actual sequencing in the competing projects—not to mention the monumental computing task of putting all the individually sequenced pieces together in the correct order—took place in 1999 and early 2000, as both groups pushed toward a deadline, arrived at after consultation with the Clinton administration, of June 26, 2000, for completion of the initial sequence and analysis of the human genome. The administration also pressured Collins and Venter to make at least a temporary truce with one another. After a last-minute agreement brokered by Ari Patrinos, both leaders appeared with Clinton in the East Room of the White House for the announcement of the historic achievement (British prime minister Tony Blair joined them by satellite). The race, if such it was, was officially declared a tie.

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