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Groundbreaking held for new Mouse House

Construction began today for a state-of-the-art genomics facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that will help researchers better understand gene function and disease by studying the more than 60,000 mice that will be housed there.

Scientists at the $13.9 million Laboratory for Comparative and Functional Genomics, which will replace the 56-year-old "Mouse House" located at the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant, will conduct mammalian genetics research aimed at developing treatments for illnesses such as cancer, obesity and Alzheimer's disease.

"The Human Genome project is one of the most fascinating science initiatives of our generation, and for years I have pushed for a new facility for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in this area of life sciences," said U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp during the ceremony. "The president requested full funding, and we are grateful. However, our excellent professional staff found that we could save the taxpayers $800,000 by securing the total amount for the entire project in this fiscal year, which we were able to do.

"This is one of our most important missions, and it will lead to advances in finding cures for some of our generation's most devastating diseases," Wamp said. "I am very proud of this cutting-edge program. The new Mouse House will be state-of-the-art and will keep ORNL at the forefront of gene research."

The 36,000 square-foot facility, scheduled for completion in 2003, represents the first new construction in ORNL's Life Sciences Division in more than 30 years. The current facility was built to house part of the uranium separation process during the World War II Manhattan Project and later was converted to accommodate the mammalian genetics program.

The new mouse house will be specific-pathogen-free, minimizing variables such as outside diseases that can affect the mice. This will enable ORNL to share its mouse resources with other research institutions.

Mice in the new facility also will be screened for behavioral, physiological and anatomical abnormalities associated with mutations induced through germ cells.

Another feature of the new facility will be a closed ventilated caging system with automated water supply. This will provide better and more efficient care for the mice while minimizing ergonomics problems for those working in the laboratory.

Earlier this year, the Department of Energy awarded a contract to Turner-Universal of Nashville to design and build the genomics laboratory. Also participating in design and construction are the architectural firm of Garikes, Wilson, Karlsbarger of Birmingham, Ala., and the engineering firm of Smith, Seckman, and Reid of Nashville.

The firms collectively have been involved in the construction of 280 research and laboratory facilities, including projects at Vanderbilt University and St. Jude Children's Research Center.

ORNL is a multiprogram science and technology laboratory operated by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy.