Germany May Reverse Genome Sequence Data Policy

Following a meeting in Bonn this week, German science officials appear likely to defuse a dispute enveloping the country's new genome research program. According to Knut Bauer of the research ministry, a planned policy granting industrial contributors 3 months of exclusive access to human genomic sequence data before they are put on the Internet may soon be dropped in favor of immediate release. However, the policy may still be applied to other types of data generated from the German genome program.

A decision to release the genomic sequence data, which likely won't be announced for several weeks, would represent a victory for scientists who favor rapid distribution of human DNA sequences on the Internet. At a February meeting in Bermuda, researchers from the world's major sequencing centers strongly objected to the German policy, which they said violates the principle of immediate data release endorsed the year before by all participants, including Germany. They also threatened to exclude Germany from their international collaboration, which would deny the country's researchers access to biological material and data from the other centers.

At the Bonn meeting, according to several participants, key genome scientists, industry representatives, and ministry officials agreed that the country must avoid a potentially disastrous conflict over data sharing. "Our top priority is to stay in the international scientific community in this field," says Bauer. And "elimination" of privileged access for industry looks like "the only way to fulfill the Bermuda principles," he says. This thinking was influenced in part by a discussion last week with U.S. genome program chief Francis Collins, Bauer adds.

Andre Rosenthal, who coordinates Germany's planned genomic sequencing effort, left the meeting hopeful that the policy will be reversed for these data. But he worries that the issue will arise again for other genomic data, such as complementary DNA sequences, where there are as yet no explicit international agreements. "I think we might see this battle fought over and over," he warns.