Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Mike Bradley ()
Communications and External Relations


ORNL dedicates Russell genomics lab

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., May 7, 2004 — Oak Ridge National Laboratory began the latest chapter in its rich history of genetics research with the dedication Friday of the William L. and Liane B. Russell Laboratory for Comparative and Functional Genomics.

With 36,000 square feet of space, accommodations for 60,000 mice, cryogenic storage and other state-of-the art features, the $14 million lab is an impressive showcase of modern genetic research capability.

But state, federal and local officials on hand for the grand opening were more impressed with its cleanliness.

Airlocks, sterilization, high-tech air filtration and other measures block pathogens such as mouse hepatitis or pinworms that can ruin a mouse colony.

That means the 1,400 mutant mouse strains developed over decades in ORNL's Mouse Genetics and Genomics Program now can be shared with other labs with no risk of contamination.

"A specific pathogen-free facility means that researchers everywhere can accept and work with our unique mice," U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp said. "It is great that our taxpayers' investment can be built upon to the betterment of all our citizens."

Wamp said the Tennessee Mouse Genome Consortium, an ORNL collaboration with several universities and medical centers across Tennessee, already has brought $12 million in research dollars to the state based upon the resources living in this new facility.

"The Russell Lab and the other DOE resources here in Oak Ridge are the kinds of investments in science that ultimately pay off in technology and economic development, helping this community and the Nation," Wamp said.

"I congratulate ORNL for this new facility and wish the scientists and the occupants of the Russell Lab well." The lab is a tribute to "Bill and Lee" Russell, the husband-and-wife team that pioneered genetic research at ORNL for nearly 50 years.

The late William Russell was the first to discover that mammalian germ cells can repair radiation damage; his work established the definitive set of principles for radiation genetics in mammals. His wife, Liane, 80, spearheaded fundamental understanding of genetics and discovered in the late 50's that the Y chromosome determines gender in mammals and that female mammals have only a single active X chromosome.

Liane Russell was unable to attend, but wrote a statement for the event saying "The ribbon is being cut today, but the mice already have begun to do their work inside. May they be fruitful, and may all the people who work here for a long time to come be as happy as Bill and I were in the mouse house that preceded this one."

ORNL Director Jeff Wadsworth cited the Russells and the national lab for achievements in genetics research, including: work on irradiated mouse embryos that led to controls on X-ray exposure of pregnant women; establishment of today's estimates of genetic risks to humans from exposure to radiation and chemicals; and the isolation of the agouti gene, which is linked to obesity, diabetes, and cancer.

"ORNL's scientific and technical initiatives today focus on the intersections of nano-info-bio research," Wadsworth said. "Tomorrow's research will entail the studies of complex systems biology. Research on mice will play a critical role in expanding our understanding of protein interactions and metabolic pathways at the molecular, cellular and whole organism systems.

"This state-of-the-art facility will support our current and future research and help us to attract the top quality talent that we need to explore the grand challenges in biology."

ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy.