OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Sept. 22, 1998 -- Biologists studying genetic mutations and diseases will soon have a new ultra-high-resolution imaging tool to examine soft tissue and skeletal detail of mice and other laboratory animals -- without killing them.
The MicroCAT system, developed by researchers at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), generates three-dimensional images with 10 times the resolution of conventional imaging systems. With MicroCAT, researchers no longer will have to rely on visible genetic markers and physical examinations to discover the presence of mutations. And, because they don't have to dissect the mice, researchers will be able to study the development of a mutation over several weeks or months.
"This means we can survey many offspring of mutagenized mice for organ or skeletal abnormalities and for changes that occur as a mouse ages or is exposed to different environmental conditions -- and then still breed the mouse for genetic analysis," said Dabney Johnson, a genetics researcher in ORNL's Life Sciences Division.
MicroCAT arose from Johnson and colleagues, quest for a better screening tool to study genetic mutations in the world's largest research colony of 70,000 mice at ORNL. The lab's biologists needed a device to quickly and cost-effectively screen the mouse colony, which represent about 400 mutant strains. That's why Michael Paulus and others in ORNL's Instrumentation and Controls Division became involved.
This new device, Johnson believes, will allow ORNL to be among the leaders in the effort to analyze gene function and identify mouse models of human genetic diseases.
"The imaging technology and the kinds of image analysis and reconstruction software that the Paulus team is integrating are revolutionary," Johnson said. "And this is the kind of thing that national laboratories like ORNL can do best because they have diverse resources and expertise."