EU funds largest mouse mutagenesis initiative to understand the genetic make-up of human diseases

October 17, 2005

Brussels, 14 Oct 2005

The European Commission today announces the launch of the new European Conditional Mouse Mutagenesis Programme (EUCOMM), which receives €13 million from the EU's Research Framework Programme. The project will generate mutations in up to 20 000 different mouse genes, which equals about 70% of the entire mouse genome. All the mutations will be stored as mutated mouse embryonic stem cells in a large repository that will be freely accessible to the entire scientific community. The rich EUCOMM mutant resource will be an invaluable aid for the researchers to understand the genetic make-up of complex human diseases. This large European collaborative effort brings together a world class team of European scientists from four European countries. The research will be coordinated by Prof. Wolfgang Wurst (GSF, Munich, Germany) and Prof. Allan Bradley (Sanger Institute, Wellcome Trust, Hinxton, UK).

The sequencing of the human genome has revealed that our genetic material is composed of about 28 000 different genes. However, just identifying a gene does not tell much about its potential function in health and disease. To investigate this it is necessary to mutate the gene in a model organism that is closely related to humans. Genetically, the mouse is a very close relative of humans, as about 99% of human genes are found in the mouse genome and vice versa. In addition, the powerful conditional mutagenesis technology has been developed that currently can only be applied in the mouse to specifically inactivate any gene in a time- and space-dependent manner. This approach allows to very precisely unravel the genetic networks underlying disease. Taken together, the mouse is the model organism of choice for human disease research.

20,000 conditional mutants in mouse

EUCOMM is the largest collaborative research project for mouse mutagenesis worldwide and integrates European skills, resources, and infrastructure to produce, in a systematic, high-throughput way, mutations throughout the mouse genome. A collection of up to 20 000 mutated genes will be generated in mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells using conditional gene trapping and gene targeting approaches. This library will enable mouse mutants to be generated in any laboratory in a standardised and cost-effective manner, thereby making them available to a much wider biomedical research community than has been possible previously. This mutant resource will be of crucial importance for health research since it will allow scientists to dissect gene functions within a living organism (in vivo) more accurately and to mimic human disease conditions more closely. In doing so, it will also speed up significantly drug developments for the treatment of human diseases.

Mouse functional genomics: towards a global initiative

The EUCOMM project is the motor of a global research initiative: a new project (NorCOMM), dedicated to set up a complementary mutant repository, is being announced in Canada simultaneously with today's launch of EUCOMM. NorCOMM, the North American Conditional Mouse Mutagenesis Project, is supported by Genome Prairie and Genome Canada, a not-for-profit organization which is leading Canada's national strategy on genomics with $ 600 million in funding from the federal government. Also, the US-National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recently launched a call for proposals for a similar research programme (KOMP, planning to generate null mutations in the mouse genome) to start in July 2006. These world-wide efforts are vital for research into human diseases - scientists and funding agencies are cooperating closely to ensure complementarity and to avoid overlaps between these different efforts. Europe is a world leader in mouse functional genomics and will play a leading role in the global effort to find the relationship between genes and disease.

EU invests €135 million in mouse functional genomics

The European Union is a major sponsor of mouse functional genomics research. Since 2002, fifteen ongoing European collaborative projects received altogether €135 million from the EU's Fifth and Sixth Framework Programmes. They are using the mouse as a model for elucidating gene functions in health and disease. These projects will be presented at a EuroMouse conference in Venice (Italy) on 14 and 15 October 2005. Some of these projects (EUMORPHIA, EMMA, EURExpress, FLPFLEX, Pathbase, Molecular Imaging, Biosapiens, EUCOMM) are developing new tools, technologies, and resources that are essential for the success of mouse functional genomics. Other projects are using mouse models to investigate the functions of key genes involved in important biological processes such as hearing (EuroHear), muscle formation (Myores), kidney function (EuReGene), angiogenesis (Lymphangiogenesis), embryonic stem cell differentiation (FunGenES), and the immune system (MUGEN).

More on the EuroMouse meeting can be found at http:///www.eumorphia.org/meetings/EuroMo use

For a list of mouse functional genomics projects, please see the Annex.

Contacts

EUCOMM coordinator
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wurst
Institute of Developmental Genetics, GSF - National Research Center for Environment and Health, Munich/Neuherberg and Technical University Munich
Tel: +49.89.31 87-41 10
E-mail: wurst@gsf.de

Scientific officer
Jacques Remacle, F4 Unit, Research DG
Tel: +32.2.296 30 45
E-mail: Jacques.Remacle@cec.eu.int

Media contact
Michael H. Wappelhorst, Press and information officer, Research DG
Tel.: +32.2.298 75 75, Fax: +32.2.295 82 20
E-mail: Michael.Wappelhorst@cec.eu.int

DG Research
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