15th May 1999

UK & America accelerate human genome project for year 2000

British and American scientists announce today that a major acceleration in the Human Genome Project will complete the foundations of this ambitious plan early in 2000. As part of an international consortium undertaking the sequencing phase of the Human Genome Project, this UK/USA collaboration will make publicly available to the international scientific community the first 'working draft' of the human genome - man's genetic blueprint -by February next year, considerably earlier than expected.

The international effort to produce the 'working draft' ahead of schedule will be conducted by the Wellcome Trust funded Sanger Centre in the UK, American laboratories funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and the US Department of Energy, and several other centres worldwide. The joint collaboration will ensure that a 'working draft' of at least 90 percent of the human genome will be placed in the public domain by spring 2000. This will pave the way towards completion of the final, high-quality human genome sequence, which is expected to be completed through the combined efforts of groups all over the world by 2003 at the latest.

The 'working draft' will provide invaluable information for biomedical researchers and will act as the foundations on which the finished genome will be built. Putting the finishing touches to the draft - correcting errors, filling in gaps - is a painstaking and critical process.

Commenting on this significant change of schedule, Dr Michael Morgan, Chief Executive of the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus, said: "We announced back in September last year that a 'working draft' would be available in 2001. However, the pooling of expertise and the increase in resources between British and American genome centres have proved that a 'working draft' can be available much earlier. This is great news for the global scientific community and illustrates the success of the publicly funded programmes. It ensures that human sequence data remains in the public domain for the development of future healthcare".

To fulfil this objective, the Wellcome Trust has adjusted Sanger Centre funding so that a total of £48 million will be released over the next 12 months to aid its effort to sequence one third of the 'working draft'. This will ensure that the Sanger Centre team can take on additional staff and purchase the necessary equipment to meet this internationally agreed goal. The NHGRI is awarding over US $80 million (around £50 million) to three world leading genome centres in the States to enable the American team to fulfil their role.

Dr John Sulston, director of the Sanger Centre, said: "It's wonderful to know that a first draft of the human genome sequence will be freely available by February 2000 and my colleagues and I at the Sanger Centre will be contributing our third early next year. The scientific community want this data immediately and we aim to give it to them as it plays a vital role in understanding the very basis of life, health and disease".

For further information contact:
Noorece Ahmed/Catherine Nestor/Ify Uwechue
Press Office, The Wellcome Trust
Tel: 0171 611 8540 / 8846 / 8612
Fax: 0171 611 8416
email: press.office@wellcome.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

The Wellcome Trust is the world's largest charity, spending some £300 million on research annually. The Trust supports more than 3000 researchers, at 300 locations, in 30 different countries - laying the foundations for the healthcare advances of the next century and helping to maintain the UK's reputation as one of the world's leading scientific nations. As well as funding major initiatives in the public understanding of science, the Trust is the country's leading supporter of research into the history of medicine.

The Sanger Centre (http://www.sanger.ac.uk) is the world's largest genome sequencing centre. In a 50:50 collaboration with the Genome Sequencing Centre, St Louis, USA, it has just completed the sequence of the worm C.elegans, the most complex genome sequenced so far (100 million bases). It has funding from the Wellcome Trust to sequence a third of the 3000 million base human genome, which will be the biggest contribution to the worldwide Human Genome Project by any single institute. The Sanger Centre and the Wellcome Trust have been at the forefront of efforts to keep the human sequence data in the public domain to allow equal access by all to our common genetic heritage.

Contact the Press Office

Don Powell Media and Public Relations Manager
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Hinxton, Cambs, CB10 1SA, UK

Tel +44 (0)1223 496 928
Mobile +44 (0)7753 775 397
Fax +44 (0)1223 494 919
Email press.office@sanger.ac.uk

* quick link - http://q.sanger.ac.uk/f09plr3e