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Building blocks of the Future
CHORI Scientist Involved in Development of New DNA Library

The prairie vole looks a lot like your typical hamster, but unlike other rodents, or even other species of vole, the prairie vole displays a variety of unique behavioral traits, such as monogamy and biparental care of offspring. As a result, this little rodent has captured center stage as a model to understand the genetic and neurologic basis of a variety of social behaviors in both voles and humans.  However, research efforts have been limited by an overall lack of genetic resources – until now.

In a recent publication in Genomics, CHORI scientists Pieter de Jong, PhD, and his colleagues Boudewijn ten Hallers, PhD and Maxim Koriabin report the first-time development of a prairie vole bacterial artificial chromosome library that lays the groundwork for cutting edge research into the genetic basis of social behaviors.

"Researchers are interested in behavior as it is encoded in the genes, in the hardwiring that predisposes different animals - including humans - to behave in different ways."
"In the case of the vole," says Dr. de Jong, who undertook the current research as part of a collaborative arrangement with behavioral scientists at the Emory University School of Medicine, "it turns out that their monogamy is the result of addiction - the voles become addicted to their mate, and that is what keeps them together."

As a result, researchers are interested in looking at the vole to hopefully discover what determines addiction, and how it might be suppressed in cases of severe depression or drug abuse.

"Very often before you can do something to improve a certain condition, you have to know what is actually causing the condition," says Dr. de Jong. "That's where genomic libraries become an invaluable resource."
Genomic libraries like the new BAC library for the vole are Dr. de Jong's specialty. The director of the BACPAC Resource Center at CHORI, Dr. de Jong develops and maintains millions of recombinant DNA clones that represent the leading resource in the world for scientists interested in studying the genetics of human disease.

"Every clone that is a different fragment from the same human or, in this case, the same vole, or what have you," Dr. de Jong says, "is called a library or collection of clones - in genetic terminology, a gene library."

The clones, called bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs), are created by inserting the DNA of interest, such as prairie vole DNA, into a regular lab strain of bacteria, and tricking the bacteria into duplicating the DNA as if it were its own.

"Once we've created a particular library, researchers can essentially search it like you would any other kind of library," explains Dr. de Jong. "In this case they aren't looking for books, but for particular genes or gene sequences, and they aren't using a card catalogue, but radioactive screening techniques."

Libraries like the newly established prairie vole BAC library allow researchers to study differing genes or gene mutations between similar species to look for any underlying patterns that might reveal the causes of specific traits, such as the addiction behind the monogamy in the prairie vole.

"From our perspective, our part in it is just like with any other BAC library we create," says Dr. de Jong. “We get the DNA, we clone it and analyze it and provide a resource so that further down the line other researchers can make significant findings."

“It's a building block. The significance comes in the future, from using the library to discover something about how certain genes work that we never knew before."

While the new prairie vole library may represent just another day in Dr. de Jong's ongoing cultivation of the BACPAC Resource Center, every new library represents a new set of discoveries waiting to be found.

"It's a building block," says Dr. de Jong. "The significance comes in the future, from using the library to discover something about how certain genes work that we never knew before."

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011 8:19 AM

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