Sequencers Endorse Immediate Data Access

What's right for humans is also right for microbes: A group of top genome researchers has agreed that everyone sequencing genomes should follow the example set by those decoding the human genome and release sequence data right away rather than holding it until publication.

Two years ago, human genome researchers broke with tradition and agreed to release new data on an ongoing basis (Science, 25 October 1996, p. 533). At a meeting in Bermuda last month, staged by the U.K.'s Wellcome Trust, researchers from Japan, France, Britain, Germany, and the United States unanimously proposed that all large-scale sequencing centers follow suit. The participants first focused on mouse genome data, "but quickly wanted to broaden it" to organisms including microbes and plants, says Francis Collins, head of the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. The scientists noted that the steady flow of human genome data has been a boon to research and has not cluttered up databases with incomplete information, as some had feared.

A formal statement of the policy is expected in a few weeks. But putting it into practice will require endorsement by government agencies in the five nations that currently support substantial genome sequencing. Practices vary--for example, the Wellcome Trust requires grantees to release pathogen sequences as they accumulate, but data from the bacterium Bacillus subtilus, financed mainly through the European Commission, were not put out promptly.

In other news from Bermuda: After comparing notes, researchers have concluded that chromosome 22 will become the first human chromosome to be completely sequenced, perhaps as early as fall.