LONDON Sequencing the human genome has been likened to landing on the moon. Two decades ago most people laughed at the prospect. One decade ago the task looked achievable but would be unbelievably slow. Then, a couple of years back we had some 5% of the code and the first draft.

In 1998, when Craig Venter set up his own research unit and privatised the sequencing program, he fired a starting pistol. While private investors poured money into Venter's Celera Genomics, governments and the Wellcome Trust were forced to divert streams of cash into the race. The publicly funded Human Genome Project (HGP) was eager to publish a sequence of the genome, and quash any attempt to gain ownership of the information via patenting.

The result has been two-fold, says Denis Alexander, head of the Molecular Immunology Programme at the Babraham Institute outside Cambridge, UK. First, having two separate...

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