Essays on Science and SocietyGenome-Sequencing Anniversary

Of Mice and Humans

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Science  18 Feb 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6019, pp. 873
DOI: 10.1126/science.1203707
CREDIT: GUILLAUME PAUMIER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells have great potential for human therapies. Although the first such cells were generated by introducing four transcription factors—Oct4, Sox2, Klf4, and c-Myc—into mouse somatic cells, we and our research benefited from the atmosphere generated in the community by the human genome project. We started in 2000 with the goal of generating embryonic-like stem cells from somatic cells. During the first phase of the research, we decided to identify genes that are expressed specifically in embryonic stem cells. The most effective weapon for us to find such genes—veritable needles in the haystack of transcribed genes—was an expressed sequence tag database, a mouse cDNA library developed and made public by RIKEN. Construction of this database was inspired by the U.S.-led international project to decipher the human genome. Mice are usually used as a model organism for humans. As Japan lagged behind in genomic science in the mid-1990s, RIKEN launched the project of sequencing all RNAs that are expressed as genes and built the mouse cDNA library.

The human genome sequence publications contributed to the development of numerous genetic databases and fundamental technologies, such as microarray analysis. The human genome project has brought tremendous changes to research methods today and has contributed to building the foundation of medical and life sciences.

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