Jackson Laboratory joins National Centers for Systems Biology

Bar Harbor, Maine - A $15.1 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant has been awarded to a team of Jackson Laboratory researchers with a new, "systems" approach to studying the genetics of health and disease.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) is awarding the five-year grant for $15,073,585 under a "National Centers for Systems Biology" program. The new center's goal: to understand how the 30,000 or so genes every human is born with interact to develop a healthy individual or lead to diseases.

"The Jackson center will exploit the power of the mouse model to shed light on how complex traits evolve," says Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D., director of NIGMS. "The combination of systems biology, statistical genetics and genomics promises to yield important insights into common human diseases."

Jackson Senior Staff Scientist Gary Churchill, the principal investigator on the grant, explains: "Heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, obesity and diabetes -- the diseases that represent our nation's greatest public health burden -- are all extremely complex and may involve hundreds of different genes, as well as diet and other environmental factors."

Using innovative computational approaches, Churchill and Jackson collaborators have made important progress in understanding how the mouse genome is organized overall. Starting with this "big picture" perspective, they plan to zero in on clusters of genes that are associated with complex diseases. "It turns out that most of those genes, individually, are perfectly benign," Churchill says. "It's only in certain combinations that these diseases arise."

The research world uses laboratory mice to study genetic diseases because mice and humans share the vast majority of their genes. Different inbred families or "strains" are somewhat analogous to different human populations, so scientists can study what combinations of genes are more likely to cause, say, hypertension.

Contact: Joyce Peterson
Jackson Laboratory

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