DNA Decoding Claim Disputed

12:22 PM EST; April 10, 2000; Vancouver, British Columbia, CANADA (AP) -- The chief scientist of an international organization trying to map the human genetic code has disputed a private company's claim to have already reached that target. Dr. Francis Collins of the publicly funded Human Genome Project claims Celera Genomics, which last week announced it had finished the decoding phase of one person's genetic code, did not complete even half of its planned effort.

Dr. Craig Venter, Celera's Chief Scientist, said last week that the U.S. company will now begin assembling the genetic fragments into their proper order. The company claimed to have beaten the Human Genome Project, an international, nonprofit consortium of scientists, in the race to decode the human genome. But Collins said Celera had planned to check the sequencing data ten times, but instead only did so three times before starting on other ventures.

"There were a couple of unfortunate quotes that implied that they had sequenced the whole human genome, but that's just not true," Collins said of Celera's claim. "What we all need to recognize is that for the sequencing for the human genome, there is not going to be a finish line for any group, for at least the next couple of years." Paul Gilman, Director of Public Policy for Celera, agreed with Collins that some public statements about the sequencing effort had been "very simplistic and confusing." But he maintained that the Company announcement on Thursday "was very precise." "It's unfortunate that Dr. Collins' response has to be so negative, but we stand by our statement," Gilman said today.

About 1,000 scientists from 50 countries are to meet this week at a conference in Vancouver to discuss the latest findings in the decade-old, multibillion-dollar Human Genome Project.