Europeans Launch Genomics Triumvirate

Projects focus on twins, mouse genetics, and proteomics European scientists are set to create the world's largest twin database as part of a nearly €40 million European Commission (EC) effort to stay at the forefront of genetic and genomic research. On 18 March, the EC announced the creation of three pan-European projects, including the twin study, a new project to identify the function of genes in mutant mice, and an effort to determine the structures of disease-related proteins.

The twin consortium will combine half a dozen twin registries across Europe to create a database of more than 800,000 twins, including more than 250,000 sets of fraternal and identical twins, says genetic epidemiologist Nancy Pedersen of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who is participating in the project. The combined database will allow scientists to puzzle out the genetic components of relatively rare conditions--such as Parkinson's disease or specific types of cancer--that affect only 1% to 5% of the population, comments behavioral geneticist Matthew McGue of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, who is not directly involved in the consortium.

A second project, dubbed Eumorphia, will organize more than a dozen labs in nine countries to systematically screen new mouse mutants for interesting characteristics--a key step in determining the function of newly identified genes. Eumorphia will develop a system for routing new mutant mice to labs that have the expertise to diagnose a given mutation's effects. The project has no peer in North America or Asia, says neurogeneticist Wayne Frankel of the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine: "It's what we need more of."

A third collaboration has received €13.7 million for projects that will decipher the structures of key disease-related proteins. The project will link 17 labs in seven countries to analyze proteins that play roles in cancer, Alzheimer's disease, tuberculosis, and other diseases. The participating teams will also work together to develop new technologies such as automating crystallization of proteins--a first step to determining their structures, says Albrecht Messerschmidt of the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried, Germany.

The awards are also designed to encourage international collaborations and are a "prelude" to more than €2 billion in funding earmarked for genomics-related research in the EC's new Sixth Framework funding program set to begin later this year, the commission said in a statement.

Related site
European Commission announcement, with project details