Complex traits and systems genetics

Genome image

The interactions among hundreds of genes and gene networks, along with external factors such as diet and exercise, determine our biological traits – hair color or cholesterol levels, for example – and our health status. Systems genetics is a comprehensive approach to studying and understanding this biological complexity.

Mining vast databases with powerful statistical tools, geneticists, mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists are generating new insights into how genetic complexity drives health and disease.

The Jackson Laboratory has deep expertise in systems genetics that gives us a distinctive edge in the quest to understand disease. This capacity also brings us closer to personalized medicine that’s targeted to each individual’s unique genetic composition.

Our research helped explain why some patients did not respond as expected to Gleevec, an effective drug for some forms of leukemia. It also identified an additional drug that can be used with Gleevec to potentially help these patients.

Our systems genetics group is mapping the dozens of genetic interactions that give rise to type 1 diabetes. Others are deciphering the gene network that controls levels of HDL, the "good" cholesterol, in our blood. And researchers in our Aging Center are untangling the web of genetic and environmental factors that make us grow old.

We also house and maintain the Mouse Genome Informatics database, the world’s most comprehensive collection of mouse genetic data. This global resource is essential to understanding genetic complexity not only in mice, but in humans, who are 95 percent genetically similar to mice.