City University researchers with $50 million backing from mainland investors have launched a DNA-technology firm in an attempt to cash in on the international human genome project. The international co-operative project is expected to have mapped more than 90 per cent of the genome - humanity's genetic make-up - by the end of the year. US firm Celera also claims it could finish the job by summer. Although the Hong Kong-mainland team is not involved in the project, information about the genome will help outside researchers identify genes relevant to the causes of diseases. City University associate professor of biology and chemistry Michael Yang Mengsu, who will head the research side of the new company, Advanced Genomic Technologies Co, described the genome as 'a gold mine'. 'We expect to list our company in two to three years, either on the mainland or in Hong Kong,' Dr Yang said. The company, launched yesterday with $50 million seed investment from state-run China International East Investment and the Xieli Group, will be based in the science park in the city of Ningbo, near Shanghai. Dr Yang has helped develop a bio-sensor - the firm's first product - that could quickly analyse up to 10,000 genes. He said the company's initial research would target common Asian diseases such as tuberculosis, leukaemia and thalassaemia. If its research hits upon significant gene functions, it would follow the example of American companies and apply for patents, he added. 'That's valid intellectual property protection and we are talking about a lot of money in possible gene therapy and disease prevention and health care,' Dr Yang said. The human genome is composed of more than 100,000 genes, each of which is coded by four recurrent base chemicals paired along a ladder-like structure called the double helix. Though the genome project will have decoded entire sequences of three billion of the four base chemicals, identifying those genes that are relevant to treating diseases and making drugs for them will take decades. US-based Human Genome Science Inc succeeded last month in patenting a gene that could be used for an Aids vaccine. US heavyweight Celera has applied for patents on select genes. Shares of both companies have soared faster than most information technology stocks in the US. However, scientists in the publicly-funded Human Genome Project say genetic knowledge belongs to all humanity.