How Many Genes in the Human Genome?

The international Human Genome Project is piling up huge masses of data: sequences of bases analyzed from the DNA of humans, mice, worms, flies, and other model organisms. This information is stored in Web-accessible databases that geneticists use to derive meaning from the data, mining it to look for such things as the functions of genes and proteins.

The people who maintain, analyze, and present genomic data are called bioinformaticists. One of these computer wizards is Ewan Birney, the head of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI). The EBI databases are available at

Dr. BirneyDr. Birney was the youngest presenter at the Biology of DNA meetings (he "just passed 30," as he admitted in his talk) and he introduced the last session of conference. He said that the interface between sets of genome sequences is a data-management headache. Dr. Birney also said that these intersections are where the drama is, a drama that he says will enthrall him for the rest of his life.

Gene SweepstakesEwan Birney also initiated GeneSweep, a contest in which anyone can place a bet on the number of genes in the human genome. Back in 2000, it only cost $1 to enter because less information was known about the genome. Now it's $20 to place a bet. All bets must be handwritten in the GeneSweep book kept in the Meetings & Courses office at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The final winner will be announced in May 2003.

Rules and working definitions are posted at




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