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NIH Expands Program to Sequence Rat Genome

New Grants Awarded to Baylor College of Medicine and Celera Genomics

February 2001

BETHESDA, Md. - The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) today announced awards totaling $58 million to expand the National Institutes of Health (NIH) program to determine the DNA sequence of the genome of the laboratory rat, a key experimental animal for many areas of biomedical research. The two new grants, to the Baylor College of Medicine and Celera Genomics Group of Applera Corporation, will greatly accelerate the ongoing program to decode the rat genome. The expanded program, which also includes Genome Therapeutics Corporation (Waltham, Mass.), The Institute for Genomic Research (Rockville, Md.), and the University of British Columbia, will produce a draft sequence of the rat genome within two years.

The rat joins a host of other important model organisms including E.coli, yeast, the roundworm C.elegans, the fruit fly and the mouse, whose genomes have been or are now being sequenced. The genome sequences of these organisms provide the basis for important studies in the field of comparative genomics. By comparing the genome sequences of different organisms, scientists can identify regions that play a vital role and thus have been conserved over evolutionary time. For example, comparing genome sequences will help researchers readily identify and study not only the protein-coding regions but also the corresponding regulatory regions, which may be located at great distances from one another.

The laboratory rat is widely used as a disease model in research programs directed at understanding, treating and preventing many human diseases. The rat genome is estimated to be 3 billion base pairs in size, similar to the size of the human genome. "The rat genome sequence will further accelerate genomic-based research leading to improved understanding of how human genes work. This will, in turn, lead to new insights for treating and preventing disease," said Dr. Richard Gibbs, Director of the Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center.

"Celera Genomics is very pleased to participate in this public/private collaboration. The rat is an important model system, widely used in many public and private sector research programs and our participation should ensure the rapid production of rat genome sequence to further those programs," said Dr. Robert Holt of Celera Genomics. Sequencing is the determination of the order of the base pairs, the subunits of DNA. Knowing the sequence of the base pairs is essential to identifying genes. Once the genes involved in biological processes are known, the information can help researchers better understand how the body develops and functions and how diseases occur.

"Important genes are conserved through evolution and so similar versions are found in different animal species," said George Weinstock, co-director of the Baylor Human Genome Sequencing Center. "The similarities between human DNA and the DNA of other living organisms are a critical guide to help researchers find genes that function similarly in humans. These model systems give us great hints for understanding human biology."

The strategy for sequencing the rat genome will combine elements of a hierarchical shotgun, or map-based, approach and a whole-genome-shotgun approach. This dual strategy will take advantage of the lessons learned during the initial sequencing of the human genome by the International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium and, separately, by Celera Genomics. The Baylor, Celera Genomics and Genome Therapeutics Corporation groups will collaborate on whole genome shotgun sequencing of the rat DNA. In addition, Baylor will contribute additional data from the sequencing of individual mapped BAC clones. The Institute for Genomic Research and the University of British Columbia groups will contribute map data that will be used to select the individual BAC clones to sequence. The draft genome sequence will be assembled by combining the several types of data.

Data from the project will be released weekly into public databases at the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Geoff Spencer
Phone: (301) 402-0911

Last updated: July 22, 2010