BAR HARBOR, Maine — The Jackson Laboratory is getting $28.3 million from the National Institutes of Health to fund more research aimed at identifying the function of each and every gene of mice.

The money award will be spread out over five years as the second phase of the international Knockout Mouse Production and Phenotyping Project, also known as KOMP2, lab officials said in a press statement issued last week.

It is a continuation of research funding for the same project that the lab received from the National Institutes of Health in 2011.

The aim of the project is to map and preserve a strain of mouse for each of their genes, each strain having one particular gene that has been mutated so as to nullify its effect on the mouse’s other genes, lab officials have said. By systematically “knocking out,” or deleting each gene in the mouse genome, scientists can examine the function of that gene on the animal’s development and health.

Robert Braun, a professor at Jackson Lab and a principal investigator of the National Institutes of Health grant, said in the statement that scientists around the world have been working together for the past 10 years to generate a targeted knockout mutation for every gene in the mouse genome.

“Mice and humans share approximately 20,000 genes, but scientists have little or no data for more than half of these genes,” Braun said. “Deleting individual genes in this way provides valuable clues to the genes’ function.”

Jackson Lab, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the University of California at Davis are the three recipients of the National Institutes of Health funding participating in the worldwide project, known as the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium.

“The consortium is engaged in the immense task of producing and phenotyping (collecting physiological data from) these mice,” lab officials wrote in the release. “Mouse models of genes with common functionality between mice and humans can lead to new models of human disease, which are useful for drug screening, preclinical studies and deeper understanding of biological and disease mechanisms.”

Jackson Lab is known globally for its use of mice to research human disease and medical conditions. Each year it produces millions of specially bred laboratory mice that are used in similar studies all over the world. The lab employs more than 1,700 people total, with nearly 1,300 of them in Bar Harbor and the rest split between Sacramento, California, and Farmington, Connecticut.

With the new grant, the lab will take advantage of powerful new gene editing technology to generate, breed, cryopreserve and clinically assess the health and well-being of 1,000 lines of mice, according to Braun. The research team at Jackson Lab, which includes principal investigators Stephen Murray and Karen Svenson, will work with other scientists to select genes of exceptional interest, genes for which little is presently known, and genes predicted to function in select pathways.

For each of the new mouse lines, Jackson Lab will assess body weight and composition, metabolic and physiological parameters, and behavioral and cognitive function at several age points, and make both the mice and the resulting data available to the worldwide scientific community before publication, lab officials wrote in the release.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....