A Cheaper Way to Buy Genomic Data

Commercial genome databases, with their multimillion-dollar subscription fees, have long been off-limits to anyone but drug companies. Now a few firms are trying to attract academic scientists by offering single-gene searches over the Internet to anyone with a credit card.

The latest is Incyte Genomics, which last month announced a gene-by-gene service at its site. Send in a sequence by e-mail and 2 days later you get the results--free--from a search of Incyte's human cDNA databases, including 50,000 genes not publicly available. The cost to order physical clones is $3000 or more. Protein and other data will be added later this year, according to Incyte CEO Roy Whitfield, who says the site has already gotten "hundreds of inquiries." At least two other companies, GeneSolutions and DoubleTwist, also have Web sites that offer glimpses of proprietary gene and expression data.

Some biologists say that, while they'd prefer that genomic data be free, the services could be a useful way to find a rare gene or an alternative to sending samples to a lab. "If you can get data you feel you can rely on ... in a cost-effective way, there's value," says William Gelbart, a Drosophila geneticist at Harvard University.