Pulling Out the Stops on the Mouse Genome

Even as the genome sequencing heavyweights scramble to finish a rough draft of the human genome, they have taken on equally monumental task: churning out a rough draft of the mouse genome by 2003. Today, the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) announced that it will award $21 million over the next 7 months to jump-start the mouse effort at 10 labs across the United States. "I'm so tickled to be able to start the mouse [sequencing] now," says NHGRI director Francis Collins.

Both human and mouse geneticists share that sentiment. The mouse genome is sometimes described as the human genome chopped into 150 pieces and put back in a different order along the mouse's 21 chromosomes. Because the mouse is so well studied, its sequence will speed the understanding of how our own genes work, says mouse geneticist Barbara Knowles, director of research at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine.

The three centers that pulled down the biggest grants are those with the lion's share of the U.S. contribution to human genome sequence: Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. They will have help from a cadre of teams including some that are relatively new to large-scale sequencing, and all will scramble to add more sequencing machines to keep the sequencing of the two genomes on track.

Unlike in the Human Genome Project, teams will be able to request regions of the mouse genome to sequence first. If the plan succeeds in moving along top priority mouse projects, says awardee Raju Kucherlapati, a geneticist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, "that will be a great strategy."