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SIROCCO’s Search for Consortium Partner Nears Close; Member Meeting Held This Week

SIROCCO, a European consortium of RNAi and microRNA researchers focused on RNA silencing, will close a competitive call next week seeking one or more research groups interested in tackling siRNA and microRNA identification and profiling duties that had previously been assigned to would-be consortium member Rosetta Genomics.
According to the consortium, it is seeking a partner or partners “established in an EU member state or an associated state” with expertise in “high-throughput cloning and sequencing of small [RNA] in human cells including embryonic stem cells as RNA sources.”
The new members must also be capable of establishing the “association and role of [miRNA] in major human solid tumors … using combined microarray and RT-PCR technology.”
Specific tasks assigned to the new partners include identifying miRNA and siRNA in different animal and human tissues, as well as validating those miRNA that have been bioinformatically predicted by deep sequencing of small RNA libraries derived from human cells.
Further, the participant or participants will profile the expression of known miRNA in healthy and diseased human tissues, namely cancerous tissue. The new member will also be charged with profiling newly discovered miRNA and siRNA in various mammalian tissues later on in the SIROCCO project.
The SIROCCO partners will also be expected to publish databases of the small RNA identified in its efforts.
Participation by the new member is expected to run from the beginning of 2008 through 2010, and will be funded by as much as €1 million.
SIROCCO Project Manager Aileen Hogan told RNAi News in an e-mail that, as of last week, “we’ve had lots of expressions of interest [in the competitive call] but no … full proposals as yet.”
She also noted in her e-mail that the next meeting of SIROCCO members is planned for this week, during which the attendees will review the various work programs, discuss their progress and plans for the next 18 months, and examine new sequencing and bioinformatics technologies.
Quiet Consortium
SIROCCO, short for Silencing RNAs: Organizers and Coordinators of Complexity in Eukaryotic Organisms, was established earlier this year with €11.8 million ($16 million) in funding from the European Union (see RNAi News, 4/26/2007).
The consortium’s primary goals are to “characterize the full complement” of miRNAs and siRNAs in animals and plants. SIROCCO members will use bioinformatics, genomics, biochemistry, cell biology, and genetics to “reveal how these RNAs are produced and processed, how they are transported, and how they target specific genes and RNAs for silencing,” according to the organization.

The competitive call is expected to “yield high-quality prospective partners with demonstrable competencies that will not only enhance the quality of the consortium but also complement the existing members.”

Additionally, consortium members will investigate the roles that miRNA and siRNA play in how diseases develop and differ, and how small RNAs help to regulate networks and interact with other cellular control mechanisms.
SIROCCO expects that its members will develop databases of siRNA and miRNA sequences and functions in multiple organisms, new technologies for detecting and manipulating the RNAs, and techniques by which siRNA and miRNA profiles can be used as molecular markers and in diagnostics.
The consortium also expects to identify potential drug targets and methods to boost the specificity of silencing RNAs for therapeutic applications. Ultimately, it plans to make these technologies and information public.
Academic members of the consortium include the Sainsbury Laboratory in the UK; Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris; the Max Planck Institutes; the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg; and the Hubrecht Laboratory in the Netherlands.
Although Exiqon is currently the consortium’s sole participant from industry, at one point Rosetta was poised to join SIROCCO as a key partner with miRNA expertise. However, the company withdrew itself from the effort due to what SIROCCO called “reasons related to contract administration.”
The full SIROCCO membership agreement can be viewed here.


Now, the consortium is looking to fill the vacancy left by Rosetta through a competitive call for one or more new partners who will help “build up a picture of siRNA and miRNA profiles and their effects on gene expression in various cell types.”
According to SIROCCO, the competitive call is expected to “yield high-quality prospective partners with demonstrable competencies that will not only enhance the quality of the consortium but also complement the existing members.
“The candidates will be evaluated on the basis of their scientific and technological excellence and, in particular, their suitability to complete the tasks assigned by the consortium,” SIROCCO added. “Another important evaluation criterion will be how the partner(s) intend to mobilize their resources such that there will be minimal delays in the associated deliverables for the overall program.”

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