BRUSSELS, Belgium ¿ The European Commission announced plans to grant EUR4.5 million (US$4 million) to the European Mutant Mouse Archive consortium to strengthen what it terms a ¿virtual mouse archive,¿ linking a network of European stock and research centers.

The European scientific community is internationally competitive in the production and characterization of mouse models for inherited diseases. But it is proving impossible for even the largest and best-funded research institutes to retain all these animals, said the director of the consortium, Martin Hrabi de Angelis.

¿It is essential that all mutants that are created are retained and held in a well-organized, central repository network from which they can readily be made available to interested investigators,¿ said de Angelis.

The EU says that some 500,000 mutant mice were used in 1999 in the UK alone, and France plans to handle some 60,000 to 70,000 specimens of mutant mice in a new facility to be built at the Ginopole in Strasbourg over the coming years. Over the last 10 years, 2,500 mutant lines have been identified, and just two of the laboratories involved in the consortium have identified nearly 1,000 new mutants in the context of national genome projects.

The rationale behind the project is that keeping this increasing number of genetically modified mice will protect the heavy investment made in creating, screening and characterizing the mutants, and the development of new techniques to generate mutants opens the way to a systematic creation of new strains that can then be stored for subsequent use in biomedical research. The objective is to create an efficient archive offering the scientific community efficient search mechanisms a well as access and delivery methods of the desired strains of mutant mice.

Only a fraction of the mutants are stored as living animals: facilities need the capacity to maintain frozen embryos and sperm from which complete individuals may be restored when needed. Every mutant line needs to store 500 frozen embryos, and needs to be replaced when stock falls under 250 embryos; it needs 30 aliquots of frozen sperm to be kept; and the live stock of lines in high demand requires some 50 animals permanently available. If all overhead, personnel, training and databasing are included, the average cost of storing and maintaining each mutant line is about EUR6,000. The archive currently consists of seven stock centers and research institutions involved in biomedical research, but is expected to expand. The network allows them to operate so that they represent in effect a single center, through the resource database ¿ being developed as a subcontract by the European Bioinformatics Institute ¿ that will provide a single entry point to access all information on strains stored in any part of the network. The largest single element in the network is an animal facility at Monterotondo, near Rome, run by the Italian national research council, the CNR, and which can accommodate 40,000 specimens.

The support comes in the context of an EU ¿Genomes for Human Health¿ initiative launched in November 2000. Since then, EUR25 million has been earmarked for activities in support of bioinformatics and animal models. A further EUR40 million is to be allocated through a selection process this year to support other research activities in post-genomics, combining research, coordination and training. Altogether, the EU is providing EUR100 million to support genome research in 2001.

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