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Firm Claims To Have Deciphered Entire Genome of a Human Being

By Paul Jacobs and Peter G. Gosselin
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- A biotech company announced Thursday that it has deciphered the genome of a human volunteer, claiming a scientific first that was greeted by both praise and skepticism from academic scientists who point out that the job remains unfinished.

Celera Genomics, in a race with a public effort to map the human genetic code, said that it has decoded millions of DNA fragments extracted from an anonymous person -- the first phase of its effort to put together a so-called “working draft” of the genome.

Celera president J. Craig Venter said that it will take another three to six weeks for his team to assemble the pieces for a complete genetic blueprint. If so, the company is slightly ahead of its competition, the publicly funded Human Genome Project.

The company’s achievement is akin to taking millions of random satellite photographs of small sections of North America. The next step is assembling them into a complete map.

When it is done, Celera’s draft is likely to have “zillions of statistical gaps,” said Eric Lander, director of the Whitehead Center for Genome Research, the largest government-funded gene sequencing center in the United States. To close those gaps, Lander said, Celera will have to rely on the public database updated daily on the Internet and now about 75 percent complete.

Deciphering the genome is a expected to help medical researchers unlock the secrets of major illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease, and provide new treatments for a host of ailments, and perhaps even forestall the effects of aging itself.

The company’s announcement comes at a time of political and financial turmoil for the biotech industry.

With biotech stocks soaring or swooning depending on the news of the day, Celera got another boost from its latest announcement.