Venter proposed that his newly-formed company, Celera, would sequence the Drosophila genome free-of-charge using a controversial technique known as whole genome shotgunning. The technique requires sheering the Drosophila DNA into three million random clones with overlapping ends. These clones are then sequenced by automated DNA sequencing machinesat Celera, some 300 sequencers, each costing $300,000and then massive computing power is put to work to assemble the complete genome sequence in a process similar to reconstructing a jigsaw puzzle.
Venter formed Celera with backing from PE Corporation (formerly known as Perkin Elmer Corporation), which makes the DNA sequencing machines, as a commercial venture to sequence the human genome by 2001, several years before the date projected for completion by the international Human Genome Project. While promising the data would be made available to researchers, Venter was also betting that Celera could make money by licensing early looks at the sequencing data to the pharmaceutical industry.
The Drosophila genome, says Mark Adams, Celera1s vice president for genome programs, would be "a proof-of-principle" for the whole genome shotgun strategy. "It seemed like a good idea to do a medium-sized organism in which there was extensive scientific interest," he says, "and in which there was already a lot of good information available in terms of map and sequence data that we could use to validate the strategy."