The newest member of NHGRI’s Centers of Excellence in Genomic Science program is the Center for In Toto Genomic Analysis of Vertebrate Development based at Caltech. With funding of $18 million for the next five years, the youngest CEGS will tackle the development of imaging technologies capable of tracking every relevant gene in vertebrate development.
The initial inspiration for the project came from the revolutionary gene development research on Drosophila conducted by Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus in the late 1970s. Through their intensive research, they identified 139 genes essential for embryonic development in the fruit fly.
“Our plan is to basically do something similar in vertebrates, but with a different strategy,” says Marianne Bronner-Fraser, who will be leading the team at the new center. Her crew will initially work with zebrafish because their transparency and rapid development make them relatively easy to image. “We’ve designed vectors that will randomly insert into the genome and they tend to go into coding regions and they insert a protein tag that’s GFP positive,” says Bronner-Fraser. The end result is a time-lapse movie of zebrafish development from the single-cell stage to nervous system development.
“Basically, we want this to be a tool, so we’ll have tags for just about any gene that’s in development,” Bronner-Fraser says. “We’ll be looking at patterns of all genes, without bias.” The long-term goal of the center is to provide an online digital fish and digital bird developmental gene atlas where researchers interested in a particular gene can mutate and examine its role and function. Bronner-Fraser expects the fish facility to be up and running by November, but anticipates that the center won’t be fully functional until two years down the line.
In this latest funding award round, NHGRI doled out a total of $54 million to support three CEGS. In addition to the new Caltech center, two existing centers were renewed for $18 million each for the next five years: the Microscale Life Sciences Center at the University of Washington and the Yale Center of Excellence in Genomic Science at Yale University.