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the conflict:

[Francis Collins is director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and principal author of the letter]

In the letter, Collins said a prime issue was Celera's desire for restrictions on commercial use of the genome database. Celera is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on gene research and has become a Wall Street darling because of its perceived lead over other biotech companies.

Venter said his company supports the goal of completing the gene map rapidly but is concerned that research it paid for will be available for other companies to repackage and sell.

According to the letter, public researchers were amenable to some restrictions for a brief period, perhaps six to 12 months. But the letter said Celera wanted the restrictions to run as late as 2005, which Collins said would hurt other biotech companies pursuing disease research.

Celera has long said that, with or without the cooperation of public researchers, it would combine its private research with public databases to produce a complete, publicly available gene map this year. Venter reiterated that plan yesterday. But without a cooperative arrangement, there are certain to be continuing arguments about who gets credit for the work and about the quality of the resulting database.

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