The availability of new genomes for 16 diverse strains of laboratory mice will help accelerate research into the genetic underpinnings of human traits and diseases.

Quanta Magazine | Oct 1, 2018 | Jonathan Lambert

No animals have done more to help science unravel the complex genetics of human disease than laboratory mice. Their usefulness as guides may rise further, however, with the announcement today in Nature Genetics that European researchers have completed draft genomic maps for 16 of the most commonly used strains of mouse. It’s a boon to researchers who until now have had to rely on a single reference genome for all mouse strains. The new work has already brought to light hundreds of genetic differences that affect a wide range of health conditions and fundamental processes in mice, and possibly humans as well.

“It’s long overdue,” said Evan Eichler, a professor of genome sciences at the University of Washington and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, who was not involved in the study. “While we’ve known that there is genetic diversity among these strains for a long time, we haven’t had this level of resolution.”

A reference genome is a comprehensive catalog of all the genes of an organism, assembled in the correct order and grouped into chromosomes, forming a sort of map. Equipped with this map, researchers can investigate genetic variation within a population, or identify variants associated with particular traits or diseases.

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