It would seem that scientists are not averse to a bit of fun or the occasional friendly wager. According to The Scientist's online edition, scientists from around the world are taking part in a collegial sweepstake on the number of genes in the human genome, with the pool now tallying somewhere between US$1 000 (about R7 300) and US$1 500 (just over R11 000).
Started in 2000 at Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory in the United States - after drinks at a banquet, apparently - scientists are now awaiting the results from the 'completed' Human Genome Project. According to the sweepstake bookie, bettors from more than 50 countries have placed all of 165 bets since 2000.
The mean prediction is 61 170 genes, with the lowest guess at 27 462 and the highest at 153 478.
There are a number of provisos for those who wish to add their US$20 (R147 or so), the required wager, to the pool. So, for example, only protein-coding genes are valid, with mitochondrial and selfish genes among those excluded from the count (more information on the rules can be found at www.ensembl.org/Genesweep/
Even more crucial is the caveat that all bets must be handwritten in a lab notebook at the Cold Spring laboratory, and are not accepted by email or telephone. Those who wish to fly over to the US to get their bets in better do so soon, as the sweepstake will remain open until the late May, early June Genome of Homo Sapiens symposium at Cold Spring Harbour, where the gene number will be determined and the winner announced.