The International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC) aims to take mice of identical genetic background and to create viable strains in which one of the 20,000 or so genes in the mouse genome is knocked out, or deactivated. The knockout strains will then be put through rigorous, systematic phenotypic screens, which will check for physical and behavioural differences. The information will be stored in a purpose-built, open-access database.
The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, have committed to funding the project with $110 million over the next five years. This leaves the IMPC still hunting $900 million worth of sponsorship. It was hoped that the European Commission, who have spent close to $305 million pioneering systematic phenotyping of mice over the past ten years might be able to raise the rest of the money. But Leszek Borysiewicz, chief executive of the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) in London, warned that the commission's politicians would need a lot of convincing that mouse genomics was more deserving of funds than other scientific projects.
Despite the funding uncertainty, most believe IMPC's goals will be reached eventually because the end goal is so vital and will be incredibly useful for science.
Paul Schofield, a geneticist at the University of Cambridge, UK, who helped to organise the meeting, said: 'There are black holes in the genomes where we simply don't know what the genes do - the mouse phenotype database would give us traction'.
'The initiative will save us time and money, which will help us provide drugs in return', agrees David Frendewey, an associate director of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, headquartered in Tarrytown, New York: 'No question, the mouse is where the action is'.