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Free genome databases finally defeat Celera

Pioneering firm completes switch from genomics to drugs.

Washington

It's official: the genome wars are over. Celera Genomics, the company that raced against the public Human Genome Project to be the first to sequence our genetic blueprint, has announced that it will stop selling genomic information.

Celera was established in 1998 with the goal of commercializing access to genome-sequence information. Its bold plan to sequence the human genome in just a couple of years spurred on the public project, which made its data available free of charge. In June 2000, the two rivals declared the race a tie.

With so much genome data publicly available, the company realized as early as 2002 that the promised profits were not going to materialize. Its high-profile president Craig Venter, who had championed the sequencing effort, resigned to pursue other genomics interests.

Celera Genomics, based in Rockville, Maryland, will continue as a pharmaceutical company, working closely with its sibling Celera Diagnostics. Its drug-discovery efforts will build on some still-proprietary information, including a collection of single-nucleotide mutations from 39 humans and a chimpanzee. “It has become a different company in many ways,” says Kathy Ordoñez, Celera's current president.

The last of the genomic information service, called the Celera Discovery System, will close by the end of June. All Celera's genomic data, including more recent mouse and rat sequences, will be made available in the public databases of the US National Center for Biotechnology Information in Bethesda, Maryland, in July.

The newly free human sequence will probably not be a great boon to researchers, as it is largely replicated by data from the Human Genome Project. But the rat and mouse sequences should be in more demand. “They will be quite useful because they are doing different strains,” says Francis Collins, director of US National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda.

Collins, who led the Human Genome Project through the genome wars, calls the data release a “victory for the scientific community”. Now he's speaking words of peace: “They have done a generous thing here and should be getting a lot of credit.”

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Marris, E. Free genome databases finally defeat Celera. Nature 435, 6 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/435006a

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