The mouse will play a pivotal role in mammalian gene function studies as we enter the post-genomics era. The challenge is to develop systematic, genome-wide mutagenesis approaches to the study of gene function. The current mouse mutant resource has been an important source of human genetic disease models. However, despite an apparently large catalogue of mouse mutations, we have access to mutations at only a small fraction of the likely total number of mammalian genes—there is a phenotype gap that needs to be filled by the establishment of new mutagenesis programmes. Two routes, genotype- and phenotype-driven, can be used for the recovery of novel mouse mutations. For the former, gene trap embryonic stem cell libraries appear set to deliver a large number of mutations around the mouse genome. The advantage of genotype-driven approaches is the ease of identification of the mutated locus; the disadvantage that a priori assumptions have to be made concerning the function and likely phenotype of the mutated gene. In contrast, phenotype-driven mutagenesis emphasizes the recovery of novel phenotypes. One phenotype-driven approach that will play an important role in expanding the mouse mutant resource employs the mutagen N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea (ENU). The phenotype-driven route makes no assumptions about the underlying genes involved, and ENU mutagenesis programmes can be expected to play a significant role in uncovering novel pathways and genes; the disadvantage is that the identification of the mutant gene is still not trivial. Together, the complementary routes of genotype- and phenotype-driven mutagenesis will provide a much enlarged catalogue of mouse mutations and phenotypes for future gene function studies
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