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Rodent Genetics Conference

By Diane Klotz
November 2005

left to right, George Weinstock, and Bill Schrader
Bill Schrader, right, director of the NIEHS Center for Rodent Genetics, chats with George Weinstock, professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine and member of the CRG advisory group. (Photo by Steve McCaw, Image Associates)

To introduce the scientific community to the efforts of the Center for Rodent Genetics, or CRG, Bill Schrader and Diane Klotz (director and assistant of the CRG, respectively) organized its first annual conference, "Genetics and Genomics of Environmental Disease Models."

The focus of the conference, which was held Oct. 6-7 in the Rodbell auditorium, was to 1) underscore the importance of understanding the impact of gene-environment interaction on human health and disease, and 2) demonstrate the importance of using mouse models to understand the process through which the environment affects disease outcomes.

The first session of the conference was organized to highlight research, supported by NIEHS both intramurally and extramurally, that has used mouse orthologs of human genes from the Environmental Genome Project to bridge the fields of toxicology and genetics. The second session was designed to show how researchers use mouse models of human disease to understand the genetics involved in the development of pulmonary diseases due to environmental exposures. The third session reported the results of the first year of the "Resequencing Project" and discussed how these data can be analyzed and utilized by the research community.

As a primary project, the NIEHS is currently overseeing the Resequencing Project to sequence the genomes of 15 diverse mouse strains for use understanding individual genetic susceptibility to environmentally-impacted diseases.

Conference attendees were scientists from NIEHS as well as regional and national rThe breadth of research carrout by the attendees was indicative of the broad interest ithe emerging field of toxicogenomics and the relationship between genetics and environmental disease.

While the conference program demonstrated the important work that is being done in these fields, it also identified a great need within the fields. As discussions following many of the presentations indicated, opportunities are being missed to use modern genetics to link human disease to environmental exposures. In particular there are not enough valid mouse models of specific human diseases. A possible step to remedy this was discussed in the final session of the conference, a roundtable discussion about how best to make the data from the Resequencing Project available to, and user-friendly for, the entire scientific community. While it was agreed that the data should be made available in both the raw and analyzed forms (useful to both geneticists and bioinformaticians), one discussion centered around the educational opportunity available to the NIEHS and the CRG.

By creating a database that is both user-friendly and educational, the NIEHS has the opportunity to assist scientists who, due to lack of information or skills, may not have considered examining the genetics of, or creating an animal model of, their disease of interest in establishing a unique bridge between the fields of genetics and environmental disease.

In 2004, NIEHS created the CRG to facilitate a concerted approach to the use of genetically-defined experimental animals for projects unique to the mission of the NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program. To this end, the initial goals of the CRG are:

  • To foster increased, improved and more predictive genetics-based models of environment-disease relationships, and
  • To serve as a national conduit for defined lines for study of environmental agents and disease susceptibility.

More information on the Resequencing Project can be found at http://www.niehs.nih.gov/crg . More information about the Environmental Genome Project can be found at http://www.niehs.nih.gov/envgenom/home.htm.

For more information on the recent CRG conference, visit http://www-apps.niehs.nih.gov/conferences/od/rgc2005/index.cfm.



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