European Rat Tools for Functional Genomics

Determining the molecular basis of natural phenotypic variation, including inter-individual susceptibility to common diseases, is a central challenge of post-genome genetics. The rat is a leading model species for research in physiology, pharmacology and toxicology, and for the study of a wide range of common, genetically complex human diseases. Decades of exquisite phenotyping and detailed analyses in rat experimental crosses have led to localization of hundreds of quantitative trait loci (QTLs) containing genes that confer susceptibility to complex disease phenotypes. However in common with studies in other organisms, few genes underlying these genetically complex traits have as yet been identified.

The availability of the rat genome sequence and genome-scale technologies, along with the ability to clone fertile adult rats, has substantially advanced the potential for functional genomics research in the rat model. The European Rat Tools for Functional Genomics (EURATools) consortium draws together leading European researchers in rat genetics, pharmacology, toxicology, disease pathophysiology, and genome biology and informatics.

The central aim of this project is the development of integrated genome tools that will generate knowledge which can be translated into improvements in healthcare for highly prevalent diseases in the European Union. The EURATools aims will be achieved by integrating high-throughput sequencing and genotyping with informatics; by intensive analysis of phenotypes, gene sequence and gene expression in congenic strains to identify genes and regulatory pathways for a wide range of rat disease phenotypes; and by establishment of optimised protocols for rat gene targeting. These new resources will significantly improve our understanding of complex genetic traits, and will enhance prospects for drug development and strategies for preventing and treating some of the commonest diseases in western societies.