Muriel Davisson, staff scientist at Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine, was recently appointed chairwoman of the International Committee on Standardized Genetic Nomenclature for Mice. This committee, formed in 1939 to ensure that names for mouse genes and linkage groups are standardized worldwide, also determines genetic criteria for the establishment of inbred and congenic strains of mice. When the committee was created, only 31 mouse gene loci were identified; today, that number is closer to 3,000.
Mouse genetic nomenclature has become increasingly important because of the Human Genome Project. This gargantuan project has a more modest counterpart in the mapping of the mouse genome.
Mouse genome mapping is important to human genome mapping for two reasons, says Davisson. First, since mouse genetics is more straightforward than human genetics, mouse mapping can facilitate preliminary searching by predicting the location of homologous genes in human chromosomes. Second, mouse mapping can be used to find mouse models of human diseases. Homologous genes may result in quite different symptoms in mice and humans, and mapping can establish that the same gene is responsible for both sets of symptoms.
According to Davisson, coordination between mapping of humans and other research species, such as rabbits, rats, cows, and horses, is beginning to take place as well. The main avenue for coordinating gene nomenclature between species is the Human Gene Mapping Workshop, an international group that meets every two years. Davisson has been a member of the workshop's Comparative Mapping Committee since 1977, and she is currently chairwoman of the mouse subcommittee.
Davisson, 49, received her A.B. from Mount Holyoke College and her Ph.D. in genetics from Penn State University. She has been a member of the Jackson Laboratory staff since 1971.