There was no military band or White House reception this time, but researchers celebrated the release of an important mammalian genome 6 May--that of a laboratory mouse called the "black 6." The Mouse Genome Sequencing Consortium announced that it has put together a draft of the C57BL/6J mouse genome that is 96% complete, and it is making the data available for free on the Internet.
Last year, Celera Genomics of Rockville, Maryland, announced that it had completed a draft of the mouse genome, but its data are available only by subscription (ScienceNOW, 27 April 2001). The public data were assembled independently by two groups: the Whitehead Institute Center for Genome Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Sanger Centre in Hinxton, U.K. Both teams used the "whole-genome shotgun" method--the technique Celera used to sequence both the mouse and human genome--which involves chopping up the genome into overlapping fragments, sequencing them, and putting them in order with the aid of powerful computers.
The draft genome turned out to be "of surprisingly better quality than anyone had expected," says Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute. He attributes the good outcome to the quality of the raw data, the sophistication of the assembly algorithms, and the fact that the researchers used an inbred strain that reduced variability. The mouse consortium says it has identified 22,500 genes with high confidence, fewer than the 34,000 in the human genome. Collins says the disparity arises mainly from differences in the way the genes are defined. He thinks the final count for both human and mouse will be "between 30,000 and 40,000 genes." Molecular geneticist Eric Lander of the Whitehead Institute predicts that it will take less than 3 years to fill the gaps and completely finish the mouse.
The new draft "looks excellent," says Maja Bucan, a molecular biolologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Although she's used Celera's database, she praises as "even more user friendly" an annotated version of the consortium's data released by the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. Geneticist Neal Copeland of the National Cancer Institute has also been using Celera's database, but he thinks now that the consortium has finally caught up, Celera has lost its advantage.