Efforts by The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) and Perkin-Elmer Corp. to begin developing the first genome map pinpointingthe position of known genes within chromosomes should provide aconsiderable boost to gene discovery efforts worldwide. (For detailsof the new collaboration, see BioWorld Today, Jan. 31, p. 1.)

Norwalk, Conn.-based Perkin-Elmer has devised an automatedmethod of rapidly and cheaply synthesizing large quantities ofpolymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers, which will enable TIGR toadd its gene sequencing data to physical genome maps created by theFrance-based Centre d'Etude du Polymorphisme Humain (CEPH)and California Institute of Technology (CalTech).

The result will be development of the first public transcript mappinpointing the location of genes within chromosomes.

William Haseltine, chairman and CEO of Rockville, Md.-basedHuman Genome Sciences Inc., said the transcript map of the genomewill help his company better use its gene sequences in developingdiagnostics and therapeutics for genetic diseases.

Human Genome Sciences, through its collaboration with TIGR, hassequenced about 35,000 genes so far and is working with SmithKlineBeecham Corp., of Philadelphia, to develop drugs based on the data.

The total number of genes in the human genome is a subject ofdispute, but most experts believe there are between 60,000 and100,000.

Human Genome Sciences provides funding for TIGR and has rightsto intellectual property developed by the institute. Haseltine said hesupported the transcript mapping efforts of TIGR, which is usingHuman Genome Sciences funds on the project.

TIGR's director and founder, Craig Venter, said mapping the geneswill enhance the medical utility of Human Genome Sciences' genesequencing data and that of other companies doing genomicresearch.

TIGR and Perkin-Elmer will map genes from about 44,000 partialgene sequences already identified in public data bases.

One reason the map has not been developed before this is theexpense of synthesizing the PCR primers. Perkin-Elmer said itstechnology has reduced that cost.

TIGR, CEPH and CalTech expect to map 10,000 genes in the nextyear. Steve Lombardi, director of Perkin-Elmer's genetic analysisunit, said the project is an opportunity to demonstrate a technologythat could be purchased and used by other companies to carry on themapping process.

Financial terms of the collaboration between TIGR and Perkin-Elmerwere not disclosed.

Researchers estimated that developing a transcript map for the entirehuman genome would cost at least $20 million.

Mark Boguski of GenBank, a public data base of DNA sequenceinformation operated by the National Center for BiotechnologyInformation in Bethesda, Md., said developing a transcript map willprovide researchers with a tremendous shortcut in locating genes thatmay be responsible for diseases.

With the current physical maps, scientists can pinpoint a region onthe chromosome where they believe the targeted gene is located, butthen they have to sequence all the material there to find it. With atranscript map, the process is more focused.

In addition, Boguski said, mapping the genes will identify areaswithin the chromosome where genes are most dense. Thatinformation, in turn, could help speed the process of sequencing theentire genome by allowing researchers to avoid areas that containwhat is referred to as junk DNA. n

-- Charles Craig

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.