Visiting scientists and news reporters got a close-up look this week at a new $1.4 million campus center that will produce genetically customized mice for research on human diseases.
The center is a collaboration between UC Davis and The Jackson Laboratory, a Maine-based nonprofit institute that is the world’s premier breeder of laboratory mice.
"This is a really great occasion for this university," said Stephen Barthold, director of UC Davis’ Center for Comparative Medicine and the campus Mouse Biology Program.
Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Robert Grey said the center’s opening occurs as UC Davis is launching a genomics initiative aimed at better understanding the actions of genes in growth, health, disease and behavior. That initiative will involve adding dozens of faculty members engaged in genomics research as well as constructing a $95 million Genome and Biomedical Sciences building.
"The opportunity to collaborate with The Jackson Laboratory comes along at a wonderful time in our history as a campus," Grey said. "It’s an important milestone for us."
Jackson Laboratory Director Kenneth Paigen said, "We are very hopeful that the relationship between Jackson Lab and the UC Davis campus will be very fruitful."
Barthold, Grey and Paigen were among speakers Monday at a symposium titled "Advances in Biomedical Research Through Mouse Biology." UC Davis and Jackson Laboratory hosted the daylong symposium at the Health Sciences Complex to launch the new collaboration.
New center is named Jax West
As part of the symposium, scientists and news reporters got an opportunity to tour the new center, which is called Jax West.
What they didn’t see were mice. The first mice are scheduled to arrive from Maine in mid-July. And after that, access to the center will be restricted to a few caretakers to protect the valuable, disease-prone animals.
Eventually the center will have about 20,000 mice and The Jackson Laboratory is exploring establishing additional buildings on campus to expand their presence here. Jax West complements UC Davis’ growing Mouse Biology Program, which was established three years ago.
The mice produced at the facility will include transgenic mice, with genes inserted to produce given physical traits useful in studying the genetic origin and development of a variety of human and animal diseases.
Murray Gardner, a professor emeritus of medicine who used mice in his research on health effects of smog and on retroviruses, said many scientists were skeptical that pioneering mice research conducted in the early 1900s would hold relevance to humans.
Just shuffled differently
"Now we know that they have the same genetic deck of cards, just shuffled differently," Gardner said.
"The mouse has been anointed the model system" for studying how genes function in the whole animal, said Larry Hjelmeland, an ophthalmology professor and faculty assistant to the provost.
Hjelmeland said such studies take on growing importance with Monday’s announcement that rival teams of scientists have completed the first rough draft of the human genome.
"A century ago, we barely knew what genetics was," he told symposium participants. "Who knows what we will know this next century to come.
"The mouse will be extremely important in the next 20 years at least," Hjelmeland said. "There literally could be no better organization for us to be in partnership with than The Jackson Laboratory."