The Consortium That Will Launch 5000 Mice

Jocelyn is a staff writer for Science magazine.

A global consortium of mouse genetics centers kicked off a project today that aims to create and test 5000 strains of knockout mice over the next 5 years.

The International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC) is the next phase of an effort started 5 years ago to build a huge, shared resource for biomedical research: Mouse embryonic stem cells in which researchers have “knocked out” each of the more than 20,000 specific mouse genes that code for proteins. By growing mice from these cells, researchers can gain insight into the role that the missing genes play in health and disease.

The new phenotyping effort will aim to probe the anatomy, development, physiology, behavior, and disease traits of 5000 of these mouse lines by the end of 2016.

Half of the work will be funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health's Knockout Mouse Phenotyping Project, which announced today cooperative agreements totaling about $102 million over 5 years with the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and the University of California, Davis, which will collaborate with other institutions; and with the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. Another $10 million award for a data coordination center and public database went to the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, United Kingdom, which will work with the U.K.’s Sanger Institute and MRC Harwell.

The other half of the phenotyping will be done by about a dozen institutions in Canada, Europe, Japan, China, and Australia. The consortium will use a battery of clinical tests that have been pilot-tested by a European Commission-funded project, which also worked out matters such as the logistics of large-scale breeding, says mouse geneticist Steve Brown, director of MRC Harwell and chair of the IMPC steering committee.

Although phenotypic data for many mouse strains already exist, "we're starting fresh," Brown says. "There are many advantages to looking at all of the mutants again."

Brown says many researchers are already requesting the mouse stem cells and predicts interest will grow as phenotyping data becomes available. One big challenge will be sharing data with the broader community "in a form that can map onto human disease in an easily intuitive way," Brown says. The hope is that the knockout data will be used widely—by everyone from academic researchers to drug companies—and that it will "have transformative impact," Brown says. If all goes well, the consortium may move on to phenotype 12,000 more mouse lines.

Posted in Biology