Ambion provides siRNA library for EMBL

Unlocking fundamental secrets about how cell division is regulated is the goal of a European Union-funded consortium called MitoCheck. One of the means to that goal is a genome-wide short interfering RNA (siRNA) library that life science research and molecular diagnostic provider Ambion and its subsidiary Ambion (Europe) Ltd. recently agreed to provide to the consortium—specifically to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany.

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AUSTIN, Texas—Unlocking fundamental secrets about how cell division is regulated is the goal of a European Union-funded consortium called MitoCheck. One of the means to that goal is a genome-wide short interfering RNA (siRNA) library that life science research and molecular diagnostic provider Ambion and its subsidiary Ambion (Europe) Ltd. recently agreed to provide to the consortium—specifically to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany.
 
According to Dr. Jan Ellenberg, EMBL group leader and co-initiator of the MitoCheck project, MitoCheck's work represents the first time any group has taken on such a comprehensive, systematic search through the genome in live cells and the first use of a genome-wide library of chemically synthesized siRNAs in academic research. "Thousands of genes have been tested in the initial phase of the project," he notes, "and the results are very promising."
 
The MitoCheck consortium intends to systematically search for human genes that have a role in mitosis, with a particular eye toward this cell function's role in cancer. A key method for this endeavor is the use of siRNAs to silence or reduce the level of expression for each gene, according to Ambion.
 
The scientists at EMBL, which is one of 10 institutes throughout Europe that make up the MitoCheck consortium, are using RNA interference (RNAi) to do this work. In RNAi, chemically synthesized RNA molecules are used to target each human gene, and EMBL needs the siRNAs to do that effectively. About 22,000 genes will be suppressed and their impact on cell division monitored by live cell microscopy to understand each gene's role in cell division.
 
The build-up to the recent announcement has been in the works for just under a year.
 
"The consortium started looking at organizations that could give them what they needed in late fall, and they chose us around the end of 2004 or very early this year," says Dr. David Dorris, vice president of RNAi technologies for Ambion. "I think a key factor in that decision was that we brought a full solution. We have a very active R&D department working on everything from siRNA delivery issues to providing the siRNAs themselves."
 
Ambion's genome-wide siRNA library comprises a set of siRNAs that reportedly target every human gene. This process of RNAi allows researchers to turn off each gene in the human genome, one gene at a time, but that is not all.
 
"The true beauty of RNAi is not just that you can turn off genes individually but also that you don't have to turn them off at all; you can turn them down in increments," Dorris reports. "All you need to know is the sequence of the genes. And you can do this process quite quickly. If someone has a gene they need to work on, they can call us and we can send them the proper siRNA to them in four or five days typically. Then they can get right into doing the experiment, which might have taken months otherwise."
 
This is a tool that is not only useful to the MitoCheck consortium, Dorris notes, but also something that he says the drug discovery industry has been wishing would arrive for many years.
 
"RNAi is a powerful tool for identifying new drug targets because you can use it to verify if the target is correct," he notes. "That is very important for high-throughput screening and medicinal chemistry work that can get very expensive. You want to make sure the gene you are inhibiting is actually important before you get too deep into things."
 
"Only five years ago, almost all research was done by studying one gene at a time," adds Matt Winkler, Ambion's chief executive officer and chief scientific officer. "RNAi and the genome projects have moved research into a new paradigm. It seems that almost every experiment now requires an RNAi component and gene expression analysis of the entire genome."


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