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Release: Immediate

University of Iowa researchers receive $4.7 million for genetic research

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Investigators at University of Iowa Colleges of Medicine and Engineering announced Wednesday that they have received at $4.7 million two-year grant to identify and locate genes in the rat genome. The grant was awarded by the National Institutes of Health's Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and the National Human Genome Research Institute, the primary agency that funds Human Genome project research.

Funding for the project, "A Program for Rat Gene Discovery and Mapping," was competitive, and the UI received the largest award for the most comprehensive study.

The grant co-principal investigators are Drs. Val C. Sheffield, associate professor in the UI department of pediatrics, M. Bento Soares, associate professor in pediatrics and physiology and biophysics, and Thomas L. Casavant, associate professor in the College of Engineering department of electrical and computer engineering.

"Understanding the rat genome is important for two reasons," Sheffield says. "Discovering genes in a model animal system will help scientists understand the human genome. Secondly, the lab rat has been used for decades as a model for human diseases. Identifying genes responsible for disease in the rat and mapping them can provide valuable pieces of information for understanding the genetic basis of human disease," he says.

Soares says that the goal is to identify 30,000 genes and to localize 10,000 along the chromosomes in the two-year grant period. He says the goal is ambitious, but realistic, and believes that the project provides a unique opportunity to apply novel methods developed in his laboratory to expedite gene discovery.

Identification and mapping of so many genes will generate a lot of data and would be impossible without substantial computational resources, Casavant says. He estimates that the raw data will be in excess of 10 gigabytes (or 10,000 megabytes). Additionally, an important part of the project will be an Internet web page generated by the group in which new findings will be published immediately for world-wide dissemination. Casavant estimates that the web page will be on-line by the first of the year.

The UI rat genome project is made possible, in part, by the Interdepartmental Research Program in Human Molecular Genetics, a College of Medicine program of which Sheffield is director.