Both the public Human Genome Project and the private Celera Genomics-sponsored effort announced within a month of each other that they have sequenced a billion base pairs--about a third of human's total genetic code. Despite those twin landmarks, it's still difficult to say which project is ahead of the other in the quest to finish a "rough draft," or 90 percent completed copy, by spring 2000.

This handicappers' confusion (in a competition both teams have said is not a race1) can be attributed to the different sequencing strategies each effort employs. Publicly funded sequencers are putting finished clones on a map as they go, while the Rockville, Md.-based Celera is first sequencing each into different-size fragments, then matching overlapped areas against each other to form a coherent picture--sort of a biological jigsaw puzzle of unprecedented scope.

Celera first announced its achievement in an Oct. 20 news release; the...

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