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Genome Project Gets Competition

A human genetics researcher and a corporation are teaming up to map the basic human genetic code, or genome, saying they can do it faster and for less money than the federal government.

Dr. J. Craig Venter, president of the nonprofit Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md., is joining with Perkin-Elmer Corp. of Norwalk, Conn.

Venter's institute was the first to determine the entire genetic sequence of a living organism, unveiling in 1995 the genetic code for a bacterium that causes a kind of meningitis.

He found a way to unravel the human coding but did not have the money to finance the project. Perkin-Elmer developed equipment to speed up the analysis of DNA.

The partners estimated they could identify the entire sequence of human genes for perhaps $200 million, in contrast to the $3 billion federal project called the Human Genome Project, and do it within three years.

The National Institutes of Health project is halfway through a 15-year schedule to map human DNA, but has decoded only about 3 percent so far.

Decoding human DNA, the inherited blueprint for each human life, could yield knowledge about human physiology and disease, while possibly allowing for the creation of medicines tailored for each recipient.

The alliance between Venter and the company, announced Saturday, plans to make its data publicly available to ensure that as many researchers as possible can examine it and its applications, such as the development of diagnostic tests and drugs.

"The sooner researchers can access the information contained in the complete human genome, the sooner new therapies can be developed," Venter said.

His foundation split from another commercial partner in June 1997, after a five-year relationship, giving up $38.2 million in exchange for freedom to publish its work. That company, Human Genome Sciences Inc., had worked to develop drugs based on the institute's work.