TOKYO--One of science's favorite lab animals, the mouse, is about to become an even more useful model system. Researchers have just completed a library of all the active genes in the mouse genome. The information should make it easier to identify genes in the human genome and figure out what they do.
An organism's genome contains a lot of excess baggage. Only a small proportion of the DNA consists of genes. Once activated, genes are translated into messenger RNA (mRNA), which then direct the production of proteins. By isolating strands of complementary DNA (cDNA) that fit together with mRNA, researchers can figure out what sequence was just translated into mRNA--that is, they can get a read on an expressed gene.
An international consortium led by Yoshihide Hayashizaki of the RIKEN Genomic Sciences Center in Yokohama, Japan, has now provided the first installment of a what they call the "mouse gene encyclopedia." In the 8 February issue of Nature, the researchers report that they have sequenced and analyzed over 20,000 full-length mouse cDNAs--one of the largest such collections for any organism. Because some genes were represented by more than one cDNA, the team estimates that they now have in hand cDNAs for nearly 13,000 different mouse genes. The consortium expects to complete the project by spring 2002.
This information should be valuable for understanding the human genome sequence, because many of the mouse and human genes are likely to be similar. "It is a very important resource," says Robert Strausberg, director of the Cancer Genomics Office of the U.S. National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. "Hayashizaki is really to be congratulated; they are at the forefront of this work."