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Lords of creation

A huge advance in our understanding of the human genetic code has opened the way to potential cures for killer diseases. It has also set private drug companies against the public sector Human Genome Project over whether patenting is appropriate for human genes.

By Tom Wilkie   July 1998

Every night, as most of Britain sleeps, the computers at the Sanger research centre near Cambridge wake up and chatter briefly to the internet. Unreadable to all but the expert eye, their message consists of long strings of the four letters A, C, G, T repeated in different combinations.

These electronically published letters are spelling out the most important story ever written: the message of human heredity encoded in DNA. An international collaboration of scientific laboratories, of which the Sanger centre is part, is engaged in reading the entire human “genome”-every one of the 100,000 or so genes that makes…

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