LYON, France - Just three days before all was due to be revealed in the upcoming issue of Science, Craig Venter, president of Celera Genomics, lifted part of the curtain in a presentation to the BioVision 2001 World Life Sciences Forum on Friday.

Brandishing a 4-foot-by-5-foot paper printout of the human genome, he tantalizingly told delegates that the human genome consisted of "well under 50,000 genes," although the exact number was not yet known. He added that it contained some 250,000 proteins and that a human being consisted of 3 trillion cells.

While acknowledging that the functions of only about half of the genes are known, Venter did assert that, contrary to popular belief, "DNA repair genes are not the cause of cancer. There is no direct genetic link."

Cancer is caused by a buildup of toxins, he said. - James Etheridge