By Kim Coghill

Washington Editor

WASHINGTON - Scientists who are part of a public-private consortium will spend the next five months researching and developing a rough draft of the DNA sequence of the mouse genome.

The Mouse Sequencing Consortium (MSC) will work under a $58 million budget created by its members, SmithKline Beecham plc, the Merck Genome Research Institute, Affymetrix Inc., the Wellcome Trust and seven institutes of the Bethesda, Md.-based National Institutes of Health.

SmithKline Beecham and Merck Genome each contributed $6.5 million, while Affymetrix spent $3.5 million and the Wellcome Trust committed $7.75 million. The NIH contributed $34 million, and its divisions involved are the National Cancer Institute, the National Human Genome Research Institute, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease and the National Institute of Mental Health.

"[The benefit of the consortium] is that the [resulting] information will be publicly available and information that is widely disseminated stimulates the discovery of information we want to have about the human genome," said Holly Wilson, spokeswoman of London-based SmithKline Beecham. "Having this information available as quickly as possible is certainly a benefit to us as well as others."

In addition to its use to aid the interpretation of the human genome, the mouse genome sequence also will increase the ability of scientists to use the mouse as a model system to study and understand human disease. Also, it will be used to develop and test new treatments in ways that cannot easily be done with humans.

The consortium's effort will expand and accelerate the program to analyze the mouse genome started by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) in September 1999, according to Mary Prescot, spokeswoman for Chicago-based BSMG, a public relations firm hired by NHGRI. That program generated most of the data for a "fingerprint" map of the mouse genome, including a set of sequences from the ends of the cloned genomic DNA fragments. It also is doing targeted sequencing of regions of the mouse genome that are of high biological interest.

Prescot said the consortium was the brainchild of SmithKline Beecham, which was involved in mouse genome research.

"The idea was to accelerate the research and find additional funding," Prescot said. "When the rough draft of the mouse genome is complete in February, it will be in the public domain. The NHGRI will then finish its work on the research."

The MCS's program will bring the overall depth of coverage of the mouse genome to the level of coverage at which shotgun genomic sequence first becomes useful to the typical scientist, with about 93 percent to 95 percent of the sequence of the mouse genome being available in small, unordered fragments. The mouse genome sequencing effort will generate the complete sequence coverage and assemble the entire sequence into a highly accurate form.

Mouse genome sequencing will be conducted at three laboratories: the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass.; Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; and the Sanger Centre in Cambridge, UK.

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