Of Mice and…Gorillas? Mouse Gene Catalog as a Conservation Tool


Mice share a similar set of genes to humans and gorillas. A catalog of the functions of all mouse genes could help in conservation efforts for endangered species.

A new study from the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium, which includes the UC Davis Mouse Biology Program, shows how the growing catalog of mouse genes could be applied to save endangered species. The paper was published May 24 in the journal Conservation Genetics.

The goal of the IMPC is to characterize the function, or phenotype, of the approximately 20,000 genes in laboratory mice. Much of that phenotyping work is carried out at the UC Davis Mouse Biology Program. So far, the consortium has analyzed 5186 lines of genetic knockout mice and identified more than 300 genes that are associated with disease as well as characterizing genes that are “essential to life.”

If a mouse gene is essential to life or linked to disease in a mouse, and it has an equivalent gene in humans, then it could be the basis of a mouse model to study a human disease.

Researchers led by Violeta Muñoz-Fuentes at the European Bioinformatics Institute (another partner in the IMPC) have now taken this a step further by comparing the mouse genes not just with humans but with gorillas. They were able to show that a number of genes identified as essential or disease-associated in mice and people also have equivalents in gorillas.

This is useful for conservation efforts because endangered species can face problems of inbreeding due to a limited gene pool.

“Many zoos and wildlife conservation centres are seeing excellent results through their breeding programmes. Currently, many focus on minimising inbreeding. By adding a functional genetic dimension to the selective process, conservation geneticists can identify the crosses that would, for example, avoid a gene variant linked to disease in the offspring,” Muñoz-Fuentes said in a news release.

For example, heart disease is common in zoo gorillas. Identifying genes linked to heart disease could be a step towards avoiding or treating it.

These comparisons between the mouse gene catalog and other species have already proved useful for domestic animals. In 2016, researchers at UC Davis and the University of Illinois used mouse genes to help identify a mutation that causes spontaneous abortion in dairy cattle.

The IMPC is hoping to work with conservation geneticists, wildlife conservation centers and zoos who are interested in making use of their data.

More information

The International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC): a functional catalogue of the mammalian genome that informs conservation (Conservation Genetics)

How a Genetic Mutation From 1 Bull Caused the Loss of Half a Million Calves Worldwide (News release)

Essential Mouse Genes Could Guide Human Precision Medicine (News release)

International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium

UC Davis Mouse Biology Program

Gorilla Doctors

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