In the News

Gary Churchill February 3, 2015 Gary Churchill is a recipient of one of two new endowed chairs in genomics and computational biology established by a gift from David and Barbara Roux. The gift initiates the Roux Family Center for Genomics and Computational Biology at JAX campuses in Connecticut and Maine. Dr. Churchill has been appointed the Karl Gunnar Johansson Chair of Computational Biology, while Dr. Yijun Ruan has been named the Florine Deschenes Roux Chair of Genomics.

Bob Gotwals November 13, 2014 Chemistry instructor Bob Gotwals received the National Association of Biology Teachers Genetics Education Award for his work in Independent Studies in Computational Biology, a research course for talented high school students from Maine to Georgia. The course immerses students in Churchill lab research from the North Carolina School of Science & Mathematics, Rockdale Magnet School for Science & Technology, Maine School of Science & Mathematics, and Mount Desert Island High School. The NABT Genetics Education Award is sponsored by the American Society for Human Genetics and the Genetics Society of America.

DO Genome November 10, 2014 Diversity Outbred mice better emulate the breadth of human responses to the carcinogen benzene, according to a recent publication in Environmental Health Perspectives. Most toxicity testing is performed in animals with limited genetic diversity and risk assessors use standard multiplying factors when extrapolating from animals to humans. The authors suggest that Diversity Outbred mice are a better model of the variation in toxicity responses across a population. Further, Diversity Outbred mice can be used to map genes that influence the variation in toxicity.

Larry Jacobs August 20, 2014 Churchill student Larry Jacobs competed at the 2014 Japanese Super Science High School Student Fair along with 5,200 top student scientists from across Japan. Larry represented the first American school ever invited to this prestigious competition. He presented research on the genetics of obesity that he conducted in Independent Studies in Computational Biology, the Center's research course for talented high school students. Larry is currently a senior at Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology in Conyers, Georgia.

Chelse Steele and Larry Jacobs July 21, 2014 Five Churchill students took home awards from the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Chelse Steele and Larry Jacobs earned the a $1,000 Third Award for Medicine and Health Sciences for their research entitled Enhancing Pancreatic Islet Function in an Obese Mouse Model. Andrew Reilley, Roger Van Peski, and Abigail Harvey received a $500 Fourth Award for Medicine and Health Sciences for their research entitled Dnmt3l: A New Genetic Factor in Obesity. All students developed their research projects in Independent Studies in Computational Biology, the Center's research course for science and math magnet school students.
The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is the world's largest international pre-college science competition, providing an annual forum for more than 1,700 high school students from over 70 countries, regions, and territories to showcase their independent research and compete for about $5 million in awards in 17 categories.

Chelse and Larry Churchill students win science fair awards and advance to Intel International Science & Engineering Fair
April 16, 2014

Five students from the Center for Genome Dynamics Independent Studies in Computational Biology course earned top science fair awards and will compete at the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles in May. Abby Harvey, Andrew Reilley, and Roger Van Peski from the Maine School of Science and Mathematics will compete at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world's largest international pre-college science competition, as will Chelse Steele and Larry Jacobs of the Rockdale Magnet School of Science and Technology.

Jasmine and Gabe Center students interviewed by NIGMS
February 13, 2014

Jasmine Johnson and Gabriel Vela attended the National Centers for Systems Biology Annual Meeting at the NIH in July, 2013, and while there were interviewed by NIGMS staff. They discuss the impact of their research experiences in a video interview.

2dscanHyper-1 Center for Genome Dynamics wins AAAS award for computational biology educational module
May 30, 2013

BAR HARBOR - A 7-week instructional module from the Center's high school research course has won the Science Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Each month the AAAS, the world's largest scientific organization, recognizes an innovative educational program with the Inquiry-Based Instruction prize in its flagship journal, Science. The May 2013 winner, Quantitative Trait Mapping, grew from the Independent Studies in Computational Biology course, which gives students an immersion experience as systems biology researchers.

Instructional content from the Quantitative Trait Mapping module is freely available at Systems Genetics Online ( Module content includes lecture video, a suggested schedule, assignments, examples and more. This content can be implemented into undergraduate biology courses to integrate math and computing into these courses, and to give undergraduate students an authentic research experience.

White House Red RoomChurchill student Jasmine Johnson recognized at White House Science Fair
April 22, 2013The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) is pleased to announce that on Monday, April 22, two recipients of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing will be in Washington, D.C. to attend the White House Science Fair, hosted by President Obama. Jasmine Johnson, 18, from Conyers, Georgia, is a senior at the Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology; and Rian Walker, 17, is a senior at Ocean Springs High School in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The young women will be accompanied at the White House by NCWIT member Dr. Quincy Brown of Bowie State University.

Jasmine will be presenting a research project she conducted on genetics and sleep. She got hooked on the topic in 11th grade after she took a computational biology course through the Jackson Laboratory, where she conducted bioinformatics research studying the relationship between fat and sleep deprivation. After narrowing 28,000 potential genes down to seven, Jasmine connected these genes with various neurodegenerative diseases, body mass, metabolic function, and RNA processing, Her research has developed models for study into the relationship between sleep and the different diseases and functions of the body. "With a nation suffering from the effects of sleep deprivation," she says, "studies focused on the possible underlying mechanisms of it all can lead to greater understanding of sleep and physiological effects as well as personalized medicine." Jasmine's project earned semifinalist status in the Siemens Competition for Math, Science, & TEchnology and currently she is planning to attend college at Stanford, Princeton, Brown or Yale.

Summer Research Trip‘Life changing’ Summer Student Program offers hands-on science education
September 2012Distance learning program at The Jackson Laboratory allowed two Georgia students to improve their science education at our acclaimed Summer Student Program.

What happens when two bright Atlanta-area high school students leave the big, hot city behind for The Jackson Laboratory’s Summer Student Program in scenic Bar Harbor, Maine? For Jasmine Johnson, the experience was “life-changing.” For Gabriel (“Gabe”) Vela, it got him to change his college plans.

Summer Research TripMagnet seniors return from summer research trip
Aug 30, 2012School has been in session for a few weeks, but two students at the Rockdale Magnet School have just started their senior year. Jasmine Johnson and Gabe Vela recently returned to school from a summer fellowship at the Jackson Laboratory in Maine.

The lab is the world's leading expert in mouse genetics; it began in 1924 after being founded by a University of Maine president. The students were selected for the summer student program and also given a grant from the National Institutes of Health to participate in it.

Feb 24, 2012 Not long ago, a clinically relevant and genomics-based model of disease meant an animal, but today's models also include cell lines and even computer-based simulations. Still, bioengineered mice and rats make up many of the models, and these genetically modified organisms provide increasingly accurate representations of how drugs treat human diseases. To get the most from genomics-based models for drug research, scientists can now combine information from bioengineered organisms, genomically modified cell lines, and computational models.
[ Full Text ]

Collaborative Cross A new mouse collaborative cross resource promises new cures and treatments for diseases
Feb 16, 2012A new genetic resource from an international research consortium is expected to accelerate the development of new cures and treatments for a wide range of human diseases. This project, called the mouse "Collaborative Cross" (CC) resource, will increase the likelihood that experiments conducted in mice will advance our understanding of human biology. The mice in the CC have 90 percent of the genetic diversity present in laboratory mice, which mirrors the genetic diversity in humans. This will enable researchers to study traits and human diseases of complex origins in an appropriate model system.

Read the special issues of Genetics and G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics.

How to build a better mouse
July 19, 2011 The Collaborative Cross project will boost diversity and help the hunt for disease genes.
Nature News article highlights the Collobrative Cross project.
[ Full Text ]

GeniverseDrakes: A Mythological Model Organism
June 27, 2011 With the aid of Web-based programs that use dragons and a related mythological organism, high school students are learning about complex concepts and gaining an appreciation for how science is really done - all while having fun. And guess what? The dragons get to be the good guys for once. Read the entire article and watch a video interview.
[ Article ] [ Video Interview ]

What is a laboratory mouse? Jackson, UNC researchers reveal the details
May 29, 2011 Mice and humans share about 95 percent of their genes, and mice are recognized around the world as the leading experimental model for studying human biology and disease. But, says Jackson Laboratory Professor Gary Churchill, Ph.D., researchers can learn even more "now that we really know what a laboratory mouse is, genetically speaking."

Churchill and Fernando Pardo-Manuel de Villena, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, leading an international research team, created a genome-wide, high-resolution map of most of the inbred mouse strains used today. Their conclusion, published in Nature Genetics: Most of the mice in use today represent only limited genetic diversity, which could be significantly expanded with the addition of more wild mouse populations.
[ Highlight in The Scientist ] [ Full Text of Paper ]

Collaborative CrossCollaborative Cross Paper Highlighted in Nature Reviews Genetics
April 18, 2011 Complex traits: Mice line up for success
Recombinant inbred lines (RILs), which are generated by crossing individuals with polymorphic genotypes followed by several generations of inbreeding, are valuable resources for studying the genetic basis of complex traits. Given the track record of mice for improving our understanding of human disease, there is great hope for what could be achieved with the extensive panel ofmouse RILs that is being developed in the Collaborative Cross (CC). The first experiments with partially inbred CC lines (pre-CC lines) have now been reported and demonstrate the power of this emerging genetic resource.
[ Highlight in Nature Reviews Genetics ] [ Full Text of Paper ]

"Aging in inbred strains of mice" - Runner up for Best Paper of the Year July 16 2010The Editors of Aging Cell have recognized 'Aging in inbred strains of mice: study design and interim report on median lifespans and circulating IGF1 levels' (Aging Cell 8: 277–287 in 2009) which was nominated by the Editorial Board and came very close to winning Paper-of-the-Year. Dr. Yuan's elegant study using 31 genetically-diverse inbred mice presents convincing support for the hypothesis that the IGF1 pathway plays a key role in regulating longevity in mice.

Tissue Survey from Center highlighted on BioGPS
May 21, 2010This week in the BioGPS Spotlight series of blog posts, the Center for Genome Dynamics Tissue Survey is highlighted. Check out the plugin in the plugin library, and read all about this new resource.

PubArray for Microarray Visualization Among Latest Churchill Software ReleasesApril 6, 2010 The Churchill Lab has released several new and updated software tools which enable the analysis and visualization of microarray and quantitative trait loci (QTL) data.

  • PubArray 1.0.0: a desktop application that turns your analyzed microarray data into a web application for easy visualization
  • Blitzkrieg 1.0.0: a desktop application that provides a quick and easy way to deploy WAR files (web application files) like those generated by PubArray
  • J/qtl 1.3.1: a desktop application for QTL analysis built on the R/qtl
  • J/maanova 1.0.0: a desktop application for the analysis of microarray experiments built on the R/maanova package

Gary ChurchillMountains and Mouse Genes March 2010Passionate about rock climbing and biostatistics, Gary Churchill studies mice at the Jackson Laboratory in Maine to learn how genes work together to influence human disease.

How the Inbred Lab Mouse Helps Reprogram the Human GenomeFebruary 22, 2010Wired Magazine describes the role of the lab mouse in medical research, how Gary Churchill uses statistical methods to track the influence of multiple genes at once and the new mouse models he and his colleagues have created to investigate complex diseases.

Sharon TsaihJackson researchers find genetic links to condition that causes kidney damage in diabeticsFebruary 18, 2010Bar Harbor, Maine -- Albuminuria, or proteinuria is a condition in which urine contains an abnormal amount of the protein albumin, and is a sign of kidney damage resulting from diabetes or other medical conditions. A Jackson Laboratory research team led by Research Scientist Ron Korstanje, Ph.D., has discovered two genes that are associated with albuminuria in both aging mice and human patients with diabetic kidney disease. [ Original Article ] [ Commentary ]

Collaborative CrossEngineered Mice Mimic Human PopulationsFebruary 5, 2010Research Triangle Park, N.C.—The mice are pretty odd. Distributed among 2,000 cages, they represent a real hodgepodge: white, black and brown mice, some fat, some skinny, some with crooked tails, some huddling in corners while others scamper in circles. These mice from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, awaiting a new housing facility here, aren’t mutant rejects. Instead they are a valuable new resource—the most diverse mouse strains to ever hit the lab bench. Because they more closely reflect the genetic variation of humans, they may be the key to understanding some of today’s most common, and most complex, diseases.

Embrace diversity! Systems genetics-enabled discovery of disease networksNovember, 2009Obesity and its associted comorbidities provide powerful examples of the complexity of gene-environment interactions in which the multiplicity of phenotypic responses that result from environmental challenges are significantly influenced by underlying genetic variations ... Using genetically controlled animal models, Shockley et al. have exploited a set of 10 inbred strains with established differences in atherogenic and obesogenic responses to a Western-style high-fat diet and here have profiled diet-induced changes in hepatic gene expression. [ Commentary ] [ Original article ]

$1 million award to kill the cancer, not the patientNovember 24, 2009For cancer patients on chemotherapy, the "cure" can be as deadly as the disease itself. Adverse drug reactions are one of the leading causes of death among patients receiving cancer treatment. Jackson Laboratory Professor Gary Churchill wants to change that. With a new two-year, $1 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, Churchill is launching a radical new approach to testing three chemotherapeutic drugs for potential toxic effects.

Randy Smith and a DragonMapping the Dragon Genome
Fall 2009As part of the GeniQuest Educational Program, Scientists at The Jackson Laboratory have successfully mapped the genome of the dragon, pinpointing the genetic factors behind such traits as forked tails, webbed wings and the ability to breathe fire.

NIH award $8.6 million to establish a Center of Excellence to study underlying causes of psychiatric disorders
September 29, 2009 The National Human Genome Research Institute and the National Institute of Mental Health has named the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill a Center of Excellence in Genomic Science and awarded UNC $8.6 million over five years to fund a new Center for Integrated Systems Genetics, or CISGen.

Diversity ArrayMethods for constructing revolutionary mouse genotyping array
August 9, 2009In early 2009, The Jackson Laboratory began offering services using the JAX® Mouse Diversity Genotyping Array, the most advanced high-density mouse genome-wide profiling array available. The array was designed by Fernando Pardo-Manuel de Villena Ph.D., University of North Carolina, and Gary Churchill Ph.D., The Jackson Laboratory, both of The Center for Genome Dynamics, in cooperation with Affymetrix, and was funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. [ Press Release ]

Watch an interview of Professor Churchill answering the following questions:

Collaborative Cross Diversity Outbred and Collaborative Cross Mice to Offer Maximum Allelic Variation
Summer 2009In its quest to provide even more powerful genetically distinct mouse resources, JAX is developing a population of Diversity Outbred (DO) mice, designed to maximize allelic variation throughout the genome. Each DO mouse will be genetically unique, and groups of them will approximate the genetic diversity found in human populations.

Gary ChurchillCollaborative Cross to improve systems genetics analysis
Spring 2009 JAX Professor Gary Churchill helped design the Collaborative Cross. Genetic analysis is experiencing a new dawn — systems genetics, the study of the interactions among the genes in a biochemical pathway. A relatively new concept, systems genetics will help scientists better understand how genes function in the context of the entire biochemical pathway to which they belong. To realize the potential of systems genetics, researchers conducting mouse-based biomedical research will need new tools — tools that will allow them to better resolve Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL) intervals and identify the underlying genes. The Collaborative Cross (CC) promises to be such a tool.

Diversity ArrayMouse Diversity Genotyping Array Service launched utilizing array developed by Center researchers
February 12, 2009BAR HARBOR, Maine - The Jackson Laboratory now offers a new Mouse Diversity Genotyping Array Service utilizing an innovative genotyping microarray. Designed for high-density, genome-wide profiling of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), the array was developed in the laboratories of Drs. Fernando Pardo-Manuel de Villena (University of North Carolina) and Gary Churchill (The Jackson Laboratory), both of The Center for Genome Dynamics. This cutting-edge research tool, produced and sold by Affymetrix, provides more than 100 times the SNP coverage than any other available mouse array, permitting high resolution mapping and genomic analysis.

Bed RaceThe Quick and the Bed – Center researchers second in Bar Harbor competition
November 22, 2008BAR HARBOR, Maine — Bed might sound like a good place to spend a snowy Saturday morning. But racing in that bed down Cottage Street? That’s even better — and silly, slippery fun.

Summer StudentsCenter High School Mentorships Praised
November 20, 2008
If hands-on is the way to teach science, hands-on in a real scientist’s lab has got to be the ultimate, right? More programs think so, and they are finding ways to make in happen for high school students.

RandomizationRandomization in laboratory procedure is key to obtaining reproducible microarray results
November 14, 2008
The quality of gene expression microarray data has improved dramatically since the first arrays were introduced in the late 1990s. However, the reproducibility of data generated at multiple laboratory sites remains a matter of concern, especially for scientists who are attempting to combine and analyze data from public repositories. We have carried out a study in which a common set of RNA samples was assayed five times in four different laboratories using Affymetrix GeneChip arrays. We observed dramatic differences in the results across laboratories and identified batch effects in array processing as one of the primary causes for these differences. When batch processing of samples is confounded with experimental factors of interest it is not possible to separate their effects, and lists of differentially expressed genes may include many artifacts. This study demonstrates the substantial impact of sample processing on microarray analysis results and underscores the need for randomization in the laboratory as a means to avoid confounding of biological factors with procedural effects.

NCSSM Grad Chosen for Respected Science Internship
Summer 2008
Bar Harbor, Maine—Elizabeth Derrhake, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics class of 2008, has been selected to participate in this year’s installment of The Jackson Laboratory’s Summer Student Program. The prestigious program draws high school and undergraduate students to the coast of Maine for an intensive, hands-on learning experience. For eight weeks, Deerhake will study computational biology under the guidance of a staff scientist. Specifically, Elizabeth will be researching genes related to kidney disease and hypertension in Dr. Gary Churchill's laboratory, hoping to contribute to understanding of those conditions. "I'll be using statistics to determine likely locations for the genes," she explains.

MSSM Senior Chosen for Respected Science Internship
Summer 2008
Bar Harbor, Maine—Ryan Keating, Main School of Science and Mathematics class of 2009, has been selected to participate in this year’s installment of The Jackson Laboratory’s Summer Student Program. The prestigious program draws high school and undergraduate students to the coast of Maine for an intensive, hands-on learning experience. For eight weeks, Keating will study bioinformatics under the guidance of a staff scientist. In Dr. Gary Churchill's lab, and with Dr. Randy Smith as a mentor, Ryan will be searching for genes that contribute to kidney disease and hypertension. Statistical analysis will provide Ryan with the likely locations for these genes.

Strains of laboratory mice more varied than previously thought
July 29, 2007
CHAPEL HILL - A collaborative study by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, has found that the genetic variation in the most widely used strains of laboratory mice is vastly greater than previously thought.

Lab-Mouse FactoryInside the Lab-Mouse Factory
May 22, 2007
How do complex networks of genes control obesity, cancer, and heart disease? The unique inbred rodents of the Jackson Laboratory may hold the answer.

High BMIHigh BMI doesn’t always spell obesity, Center researchers show
July 20, 2006
Bar Harbor, Maine - For years doctors have used the body mass index (BMI), a ratio of height and weight, to characterize the clinical weight status of their patients. The lower the number, the presumption goes, the leaner the person, and anyone with a BMI above 30 is characterized as obese and at high risk for the associated complications. But the BMI has come under scrutiny lately, and other techniques that measure how the weight is distributed on the body are thought to provide a better way to assess risk. Now a study in mice by scientists at The Jackson Laboratory indicates that the usefulness of the BMI is suspect even at the genetic level.

NIGMS Announces New Systems Biology Centers
March 30, 2006
Two new multidisciplinary centers have joined an ongoing effort supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to develop new strategies and tools for studying the complexity of biological systems. The centers will integrate experimental and computational approaches into research, technology development, and outreach programs. The findings from these projects will advance our understanding of basic biological processes and the role they play in human health.

Jackson Laboratory awarded $15.1M federal grant for new, "systems" approach to genetics researchMarch 30, 2006 Bar Harbor, Maine - A $15.1 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant has been awarded to a team of Jackson Laboratory researchers with a new, "systems" approach to studying the genetics of health and disease. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) is awarding the five-year grant for $15,073,585 under a "National Centers for Systems Biology" program. The new center's goal: to understand how the 30,000 or so genes every human is born with interact to develop a healthy individual or lead to diseases.

The Collaborative Cross, a community resource for the genetic analysis of complex traitsNovember, 2004 The Complex Trait Consortium, a large international group of researchers, led by Senior Staff Scientist Gary Churchill, propose to develop a Collaborative Cross--a large collection of recombinant inbred mouse strains--in order to more efficiently identify study the genetics of complex traits. Dr. Churchill explains: "In a nutshell, the proposal is to take eight existing strains of mice, carefully selected for maximal diversity, and to shuffle their genomes together like a deck of cards. The result will be 1,000 new strains of mice that can be mated to produce as many as one million genetic combinations, providing a wealth of new models for human diseases."

Jackson Laboratory Awarded $892,530 Department of Defense Grant to Study Stress Fracture SusceptibilityOctober 16 , 2003 Bar Harbor, Maine- Basic training builds good military men and women, but it can also take a toll on their bones. Stress fractures are a leading cause of hospitalization in the U.S. military, increasing the time and cost of training and affecting military readiness. The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded The Jackson Laboratory a grant of $892,530 to study the genetic and physiological reasons some soldiers are more susceptible than others to stress fracture injuries.

Complex Rhythms June 29, 2001 One of the hopes of the Human Genome Project has been to unearth the genetic basis of complex traits and diseases. This will be an arduous task indeed if a new paper by Shimomura et al. is any indication. They have studied circadian rhythms by examining five aspects of a wheel-running behavior (period, phase, amplitude, activity level, and dissociation) in two strains of mice (BALB/c and C57BL/6) and in the first- and second-generation progeny of matings between the strains. Quantitative trait locus analysis uncovered 14 loci with significant effects. A subsequent genome-wide analysis for epistatic genetic interactions identified two locus pairs, differing from any of the 14 loci, that affect two of the parameters when occurring together but not when occurring alone. All but two of these loci were clearly different from the mammalian clock genes. Thus, the variation in circadian behavior is determined by the accumulated effects of and interactions between many genes, most of which do not encode the central role players of the behavior.

Hypertension MeasurementsGenomics of salt-induced hypertension: Researchers identify chromosome regions of interest in mice, humans, and ratsFebruary 26, 2001 Researchers have taken the first steps toward identifying genes that make some mice susceptible to hypertension. Using genome scans and computational tools, the investigators located regions of mouse chromosomes likely to contain risk factors for the salt-sensitive form of the condition. The study identified corresponding regions of the human and the rat genomes, supporting the notion that a fundamental similarity exists across species and that pinpointing genes in rodents could lead researchers to blood pressure genes in humans.

Churchill Postdoc Featured in The Search

Steve Munger

Churchill postdoc Dr. Steve Munger is featured in a piece about postdocs in The Search, the magazine of The Jackson Laboratory.