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Friday, 6 October, 2000, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
New chapter in the gene race?
Lab mouse
We share 85% of our genes with mice
A public-private consortium including the UK's Wellcome Trust and the US National Institutes of Health has announced a 39m ($58m) drive to decipher the mouse genetic code by February.

It signals a new chapter in the gene race between international researchers and private US company Celera Genomics.

The consortium see the mouse genome as the sort of basic, pre-competitive resource that should be available to all scientists

Wellcome Trust
The groups agreed in June to co-operate in publishing their findings on the first draft of the human genome after what was portrayed as bitter competition.

But Dr Craig Venter, the president of Celera, said in a newspaper interview on Friday that his company had already sequenced the genomes of three different strains of mice, two of them to 90% completion, and was perplexed by the new public initiative.

He is reported to have told the New York Times that it would have been more valuable for the National Institutes of Health to have sequenced a genome of a different species, "instead of duplicating efforts again and wasting public money".

Dr Venter also expressed concern that the mouse work would divert the NIH team from completing its version of the human genome. "The worry we always had was they would not finish it," he said.

But the Wellcome Trust said the work of the Mouse Sequencing Consortium was complementary to that of Celera because it involved a different strain of mouse.

"The consortium see the mouse genome as the sort of basic, pre-competitive resource that should be available to all scientists, without restriction, in order to assure that the potential of the human genome is realised as rapidly as possible," a spokesperson told BBC News Online.

"As Celera has previously stated, its mouse genome is for the company's clients who've paid subscriptions."

Cash injection

The Mouse Sequencing Consortium will provide 39m ($58m) over the next six months to decode the mouse genome.

The consortium comprises the National Institutes of Health, the Wellcome Trust and three private companies - SmithKline Beecham, the Merck Genome Research Institute and Affymetrix Inc.

Dr Mike Dexter, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: "The Trust sees the mouse sequence as being an essential part of its overall strategy for the translation of sequence information to healthcare benefits.

"The value of forming the Mouse Sequence Consortium is that by pooling resources this data will be freely available to all much earlier than originally planned.

"Our membership of this consortium ensures that the UK continues to play a leading role in this important area of scientific research."

The consortium will decode a different strain of mouse from the three strains analysed by Celera - one known as "Black 6".

The DNA sequencing will be carried out at three laboratories that played a leading role in cracking the human genome: the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Massachusetts, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, and the Sanger Centre, Cambridge, UK.

They will use two methods - the one used by the public sequencing consortium to produce the human DNA sequence and the "shotgun" strategy used by Celera that also produced a version of the human genome sequence this year.

"The melding of these two strategies promises to produce a high-quality genome sequence more quickly than either strategy could alone," said the Wellcome Trust in a statement.

Mouse clues

The mouse genome will enable scientists to interpret information gleaned from the human genome.

The genome of the mouse is the same size as that of humans, about 3.1 billion base pairs.

Humans and mice share about 85% of the gene sequences that encode the proteins needed to carry out basic biological functions.

The mouse genome sequence will also enable scientists to use the mouse as a model system to study and understand human disease.

The consortium will follow the data release practices of the international Human Genome Project by making sequence data freely available to the research community as soon as possible.

The raw data will be deposited in a newly-established public database operated by the National Center for Biotechnology Information and a sister database run by the European Bioinformatics Institute.

Celera charges drug companies, universities and other researchers for subscriptions to their databases that will detail the genetic makeup of humans as well as other organisms.

Celera said on Thursday that it had not decided which animal it would tackle next after publishing its findings on the mouse genome, expected late this year.

Speaking to reporters while on a tour of Germany, Dr Venter said a study of the chimpanzee genome would be desirable to gain a better understanding of human evolution.

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See also:

02 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Complete mouse DNA map soon
17 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Celera plans next step
01 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Mice mutants probe human genome
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