The Big Ome

Can an international group of scientists map the entire regulatory network of a cell?

In May 2004, a steady stream of more than 75 researchers from France, Italy, Singapore, and other nations around the world arrived in Ottawa, Canada, a hub of industry and government activity nestled in the confluence of three rivers. Each scientist was hand picked by Michael Rudnicki, a renowned stem-cell researcher at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI). For 2 days, they reported on cellular regulation and talked about transcription. At the end of the workshop, the group prepared to disperse, but before leaving, they laid the foundation for an ambitious international project aimed at understanding how the mammalian genome is regulated. They called themselves the International Regulome Consortium (IRC).

In the laundry list of “omes” that have captured public attention—the genome, proteome, metabolome, and even the unknome (genes of unknown function)—the regulome...

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