In human genome race, competition spurred better science

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Intense rivalry between public and private teams helped project

The conflicts between the two teams — one publicly funded, one private — that raced to sequence the human genome often drew more attention than the actual completion of the project itself. A team of Harvard researchers found that the rivalry spurred and improved a potentially sluggish public project. And an important consequence of the dual efforts is the existence of separate sequences and their implications for the scientific community. George Church, John Aach, Jay Shendure, and colleagues performed one of the first comparisons of the two draft sequences, detailed in Nature. The rivalry helped, they found. “The managers in the public domain are highly motivated to undermine the utility and cost-effectiveness of any private resource,” said Church. This motivation has produced a public draft that is comparable to the private one. “In terms of quality of assembly and quality of data, they’re surprisingly similar,” he said. “You can see how quickly a lead can be eroded in this field.”