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Zurich, Switzerland, 20 March 2003 – Tecan, a leading player in the Life Sciences supply industry, today announced that GenePaint has been used in a landmark study published in the leading international scientific journal Nature. GenePaint is an innovative technology designed to automate the study of the function of large numbers of genes simultaneously. The work analysed the expression patterns of genes from an entire chromosome, a task that would be extremely laborious in the absence of automation.
The Human Genome Project, which culminated in 2000 with the publication of the human nucleotide genome sequence, was a key milestone in the history of the Life Sciences. However, this achievement was only the first step in understanding in detail the function of all human genes and the way they interact with each other. The next step to establish the function of a gene requires knowing when and where it is expressed in a particular tissue. However, in situ hybridization, one of the best available techniques for this purpose, is extremely labor intensive and time consuming. Taking into consideration that the human cell contains approximately 30 000 genes, it is essential that scientists have access to automated solutions to study genome-wide gene expression patterns.
The study was carried out by an international group of researchers from leading academic centers 2. In the work, Tecan’s GenePaint system was used for genome-wide expression analysis as a tool to help identify genes associated with Down’s syndrome in humans. Down’s syndrome, which has an overall incidence of around 0.1% in live human births, is a chromosomal disorder that leads to pronounced mental retardation. Gene expression data provide essential information that may be used to understand the role that different genes play in this debilitating condition.
The laboratory mouse is believed to be the experimental key to the human genome. Working on mouse models allows the detailed study of each and every gene to determine their functions, and should allow scientists to acquire detailed insights into many aspects of human disease as well as basic human biology. The human chromosome 21 gene expression atlas was therefore created using mouse tissues at different stages of development.
Professor Gregor Eichele, Director of the Department of Molecular Embryology at the Max-Planck-Institute in Hannover, is an internationally renowned expert in gene expression and was one of the leading authors of this study. He remarked: “ We have been working closely with Tecan to develop an automated system that overcomes one of the key bottlenecks in functional genomics studies, namely throughput. The publication of this study in Nature not only shows the capabilities of the GenePaint system to produce an active gene expression map for a whole chromosome but also confirms its potential to assess the contribution of specific genes to pressing clinical challenges such as Down’s syndrome”. He added: “We believe this type of approach has considerable potential to transform the way researchers use gene hybridization techniques in a wide range of functional genomic studies with important clinical applications. “
The study used all identifiable mouse orthologues — that is genes derived directly from a common human gene ancestor — of human chromosome 21 genes (161 out of 178 confirmed human genes). To generate the human chromosome 21 gene expression atlas, these related genes were studied by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in four mouse developmental stages and 12 adult tissues. An automated Leica microscope, which was used in conjunction with a Genesis platform and GenePaint, permitted the analysis of about 6500 mouse tissue sections generated by this analysis.
Dr Emile Sutcliffe, Chief Executive Officer of Tecan, remarked: “ It is always exciting to see at first hand how our solutions for technological bottlenecks are bringing major advances to different areas of the Life Sciences.” He added: “This collaboration with leading academic research centres and publication in a journal of the calibre of Nature is a good indication of the value of innovation that we strive to bring to the Life Sciences.”
The elucidation of gene expression is one of the key steps in a range of gene expression methods. Detailed investigation, in which the specific role of a particular gene in a process is established, typically involves the use of the appropriate cell or tissue samples using a technique referred to as in situ hybridization. GenePaint is a system that automates all the steps required for performing in situ hybridization analysis in cells or tissue samples on microscope slide formats. Tecan’s expertise in automation and liquid handling have been combined together with a revolutionary new flow chamber technology to produce a high throughput system capable of performing all fixing, staining, washing and hybridization processes in a tightly temperature-controlled manner. In addition to throughput, the system has been designed to deliver increased reproducibility for a wide range of gene expression measurements. GenePaint is a key part of a range of solutions that make up Tecan’s modular Gene Expression Suite. In addition to in situ hybridization, GenePaint is suitable for fluorescence in situ hybridization and a range of immunohistochemical applications.
The gene expression databank of the Max-Planck-Institute, Hannover, is available at www.genepaint.org and provides access to all of the gene expression patterns elucidated in the study.
Further details on GenePaint are available at www.tigem.it and via the Tecan web site.
1 Reymond et al. (2002) Human chromosome 21 gene expression atlas in mouse. Nature 420: 582-586.
2 The Max-Planck-Institute at the University of Hannover (Germany) , University of Geneva Medical School (Switzerland), University Hospital Geneva (Switzerland), Telethon Institute of Genetics and Medicine (Italy), University of Naples (Italy).
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