Decoding genetic variation in mice gives insight into disease

The genome sequences for 17 different laboratory mouse strains have been decoded by an international team led by researchers at the University of Oxford and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge.

These strains of mice are used in many areas of biology to further our understanding of human disease.

The researchers, through this sequencing effort, have developed an extensive catalogue of the genetic variation seen in the mice – the biggest such resource available for any vertebrate.

The resource will be invaluable for associating differences in biological processes relevant to human disease with changes to DNA.

‘This study is a first step in a long path that moves from understanding what the genome is, to what it does,’ says Dr Jonathan Flint from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University, who co-led the study.

Each of the 17 mouse strain differs from the others in its genes and across a range of medically and biologically important characteristics.

In comparing their genomes, the team found 56.6 million sites where single letters in the DNA code could vary, in addition to other more complex differences in the sequenced genomes of the mice.

They also identified DNA changes associated with over 100 measurable, physical characteristics of the mice, including markers for diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. It is this which begins to link the large catalogue of genes and variants with biological pathways that are important in human disease.