A Rockville biotech firm is one-third of the way through the first phase of recording all of the genetic information in the DNA of the mouse, a step that could aid medical research and prove critical in understanding human genes.
"The availability of the mouse genome is crucial to understanding the human genome," said J. Craig Venter, president and chief scientific officer of Celera Genomics Group.
To determine what a mouse gene does, scientists routinely disable a single gene in an embryonic mouse and see what happens to the developing animal.
Obviously, the same technique can't be used with humans.
But mice share 85 percent to 90 percent of human genes, and most of these genes probably perform similar functions.
Mice also are widely used by researchers as a surrogate for humans in studies of everything from epilepsy and heart disease to drug addiction.
Understanding the mouse's complete genetic encyclopedia, or genome, could help in interpreting the significance of the animal tests.
Venter said Celera has read the order, or sequence, of 1.15 billion of the 3 billion chemical units -represented by the letters A, C, T and G - in the mouse genome.
Celera robots are reading the DNA from a strain of lab mouse in snippets about 500 letters long, which company scientists hope to assemble later into a continuous genetic text.
Celera is racing the Mouse Genome Sequencing Network, a group of 10 centers led by the National Institutes of Health, to complete the first mouse genome.
The NIH, which started work on the mouse last fall, plans to complete a draft of the animal's DNA by 2003 and a completed genome in 2005.
Celera began work on the mouse genome April 6 and plans to finish by July 2001.
Celera is also racing the Human Genome Project, an international consortium of academic labs, to complete the first human genome.
Celera is expected to claim it has finished the task in the next few weeks.
The consortium, led in this country by the NIH, is expected to announce it has completed a "draft" of the genome this month.
Shares of Celera closed yesterday at $63.4375, up $3.3125 -- or 5.5 percent -- on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was moderate at 1.46 million shares traded, down from the six-month daily average of 1.62 million.