New online resource for COVID-19 researchers

MGI website offers comprehensive information on coronavirus-related mouse models and research

Mouse Genome Informatics, the international database resource for the laboratory mouse based at The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), now offers a special, annotated information site about mice and genes relevant to coronavirus research.

The MGI Coronavirus Information Center was set up to support worldwide efforts in the scientific community to find safe and effective treatments for COVID-19 and other coronaviruses.

This transmission electron microscope image shows virus particles of SARS-CoV-2 emerging from the surface of cells from a COVID-19 patient that were cultured in the lab. The spikes on the periphery of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name (Latin derivation; corona=crown). Photo Credit: NIAID-RML

“There has already been a lot of mouse-based research to study coronavirus biology and pathology in the past two decades,” says JAX Professor Carol Bult, a Carol Bult, Ph.D.Bridges the digital biology divide, by integrating computation and informatics with biomedical research.principal investigator in the MGI consortium, “for both the MERS and SARS strains. But for researchers now studying SARS-CoV2, the COVID-19-causative virus, it can be difficult to find information on all the relevant mouse models and how they’ve been used in the past.”

The new resource, Bult says, “is an annotated collection of expertly curated data from MGI on coronavirus relevant mouse models and genes.” Moreover, she says, researchers don’t have to be expert MGI users, “because we've compiled the information, summarized the findings, and made links to further details and to the source publications. We will update the site regularly as new studies are published.”

The site presents news media reports as well as the latest scientific updates.

To take advantage of past research that has uncovered genes associated with coronavirus susceptibility and disease in humans — and that are thus potentially good therapeutic targets for COVID-19 — researchers need to identify which mouse models best represent those genes. The MGI Coronavirus Information Center provides information on specific mouse strains, as well as genetically varied mouse populations such as the Collaborative Cross.

“Several cool studies have been done in Collaborative Cross mice that identified novel genes that influence susceptibility to coronavirus infection and disease responses,” Bult says. “These genes haven't been validated in humans yet, so the results of these studies suggest new avenues for investigating the genetics of host response to coronaviruses and potential target genes and pathways for treatments.”

To date, the most promising mouse model for SARS-CoV2 is the  hACE2 transgenic mouse model for coronavirus (COVID-19) researchCommonly used wild-type mouse strains are not optimal for studying infections of the newly discovered coronavirus. Fortunately, a transgenic model at JAX is now available to fill the unmet need for an in vivo experimental platform for COVID-19 research.K18-hACE2 transgenic mouse, for which JAX is currently  Expediting COVID-19 researchThe Jackson Laboratory is fast-tracking the breeding and distribution of a unique transgenic mouse model for worldwide coronavirus research.expediting production for scientists around the world. “This mouse model has not yet been validated,” she notes, “but as research studies using it are published, we will incorporate them into our resource.”

The new resource, Bult says, is in keeping with MGI’s long-standing mission to curate the biomedical literature so that it’s more accessible, consistent and easy to search. “MGI has served as a unique community genome database, linking genotypes to phenotypes for more than 30 years.

“The special MGI COVID-19 mouse research resource leverages the work our team has devoted to integrating genetic and genomic data about mouse models of human biology. It is our way of contributing to the response of the biomedical research community to this unprecedented crisis.”