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New Mice on the Block

After 10 years in development, a novel mouse population proves its mettle in complex trait research. By Megan Scudellari

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In the beginning, the mice were few and far between. In 2001, over beers at a conference, a group of geneticists dreamt up the ideal resource for systems genetics—a mouse population bursting with genetic diversity, far more than traditional inbred lab strains. Such a resource would better model human diversity and disease in the lab, they surmised. But no one was willing to supply the $50 million they estimated it would cost, so Gary Churchill of the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, began breeding the mice, alone and sans funding, in his lab.

Soon, Churchill had enough mice to ship to collaborators in Tennessee, Kenya, and Australia, who also began the breeding process. Thanks to that dedicated group of scientists, the Collaborative Cross (CC) was born—a population bred from 8 founding mouse strains, including 3 wild type strains, to encompass 90 percent of the diversity of the whole mouse genome, a number on par with the amount of variation in our own genome. (All traditional lab mice strains combined contain only about 30 percent of the allelic diversity of the mouse genome in their DNA.)

Today, the project has finally found a home at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), where over 450 resulting CC strains are completed or in development. Each strain has been fully genotyped, and the resource is now ready, its creators say, to help scientists unravel the genetics behind complex traits like cancer, aging, fertility, and more.

Last week, the first publications using the CC mice hit the press. Two journals, Genetics and G3: Genes/Genomes/Genetics, published a series of 15 articles demonstrating how the CC mice—and a companion resource called the Diversity Outbred (DO) mice—are being put to use. Simultaneously, UNC-CH launched a website where scientists can order the mice and download their genotypes.