To be sure, much work remains. Only one billion base pairs, a third of the total, in the public database are in a "finished" form, meaning they are highly accurate and without gaps. Both the Celera and the public data contain numerous gaps at the moment. In addition, large parts of the heterochromatin¿a gene-poor, repeat-rich part of the DNA that accounts for about 10 percent of the genome¿has yet to be cloned and sequenced. By the spring of 2003, the public project is hoping to finish that task, except for sequences that turn out to be impossible to obtain using current methods.
The next big challenge will be to find out how the genes interact in a cell. According to Collins, researchers will "begin to look at biology in a whole-genome way," studying, for example, the expression of all genes in a cell at a given time. Proteins, the products of the genes, will also be studied "not just one at a time, but tens of thousands at a time," Collins says, speaking of a fast-growing research field that goes by the name of proteomics. In the end, however, genes may provide only so many answers. "The basic message," Venter concludes, "is that humans are not hardwired. People who were looking for deterministic explanations for everything in their lives will be very disappointed, and people who are looking for the genome to absolve them of personal responsibility will be even more disappointed.