Molecular cell lab boosts gene research

March 31, 1995

A Pounds 7 million laboratory for molecular cell biology, opened last week at University College London, will enable scientists to study the genes that have been discovered by gene-mapping programmes and work out what they do.

The laboratory, funded by the Medical Research Council, can house 20 research teams and will be shared by UCL and King's College. It was built after fears raised by the MRC in 1987 that United Kingdom cell biology was not sufficiently developed to harness the power of the new DNA technology. Molecular cell biology uses such techniques to understand how cells function and how they develop.

Colin Hopkins, director of the lab, said that molecular cell biology is developing fast as information becomes available from genome sequencing.

"The entire genomes of yeast and nematodes are expected to be completed within the next two or three years and over the next ten years, the human genome will be fully documented," he said.

"This information has implications for every field of medicine but for it to be effectively exploited it will be necessary to know what the products expressed from these genes actually do."

Such work will become a "major preoccupation" of the lab, he said.

A meeting of the Genetical Society in Warwick last week heard that although all the genes that make up a yeast cell will soon be identified, the functions of at least a quarter of them cannot yet be predicted.

The lab forms part of the Institute of Molecular Biology, which includes cell biologists from many departments of the two colleges. The institute is also trying to attract top-quality students by running a four-year PhD programme: in the first year students do courses and small research projects in various parts of the institute.

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