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NIH Group Selected to Decode Mouse Genome

By Cathy Yarbrough

On the Front Page...

Twenty-five NIH employees working in Gaithersburg have received a strong endorsement by a review committee of top scientists in the burgeoning field of genomics. The employees — scientists and staff at the NIH Intramural Sequencing Center (NISC) — were recently notified that NISC was designated a member of NIH's new Mouse Genome Sequencing Network. The network of 10 sequencing centers across the United States will decipher the genetic makeup (or genome) of the mouse, one of the most frequently used mammals in medical and behavioral research.

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In 3 years, the network will carefully map, or determine the physical organization of the mouse's 21 chromosomes, and then sequence, or identify the order of the estimated 3 billion chemical bases, the mouse genome.

Dr. Jeff Touchman (r), director of sequencing at NISC, explains work to visitors during NHGRI Consumer Day on Nov. 12

"Knowing the genetic make-up of the mouse and being able to compare it to the DNA of humans and other animal species will greatly expedite many avenues of research including assessing predisposition to disease, predicting responses to environmental agents and drugs, and designing new medicines," said NIH director Dr. Harold Varmus.

The value of the mouse genome to a wide spectrum of biomedical scientists is illustrated by the funding of the Mouse Genome Sequencing Network by NIH. "Every institute at NIH, with support of the NIH Office of the Director, has made a contribution to the first year of funding for the Mouse Genome Sequencing Network, demonstrating the importance of this work to research progress in virtually every area of biomedical research from hereditary hearing impairments to Alzheimer's," said Dr. James F. Battey, NIDCD director and cochair of the trans-NIH mouse genomics and genetics resources coordinating group.

Mohammad Ojodu, a production technician at NISC, works at the computer.

NISC, which was established in 1997 by NIH to provide its intramural scientists access to large-scale DNA sequencing at a relatively low cost, was one of numerous research institutions that applied for the Mouse Genome Sequencing Network grants. All applications for the network underwent the rigorous evaluation that characterizes the NIH grants awards system. A key consideration in the selection of these grants was the applicant's ability to sequence DNA accurately and efficiently.

That NISC competed successfully to receive one of the grants is a tribute to the facility's scientists and staff, said Dr. Jeffrey Trent, director of the intramural research program of NHGRI, which oversees NISC. "NISC's excellent work already has earned the praise of NIH scientists who depend on the facility for their research. NISC receiving the grant is certainly 'icing on the cake.'"

Dr. Eric Green, director of NISC, added, "Our involvement in the Mouse Genome Sequencing Network is particularly exciting since it will allow an intramural group to be full-fledged participants in an important component of the ongoing Human Genome Project."

The Human Genome Project's efforts to decode the genetic script of humans will produce a working draft in spring 2000 and a complete document in 2003. Data from the sequencing of both the human and mouse genomes are accessible to the public via NIH's GenBank Web site.


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