EcoArray, Inc., a genomics company specializing in constructing and using gene chips for environmental testing, announced that the company and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have established a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), designed to produce a standard gene chip for the fathead minnow, the EPA's sentinel species for testing fresh water. EcoArray will collaborate with the EPA genomics team led by Dr. Ann Miracle in Cincinnati, Ohio and Dr. Gerald Ankley in Duluth, Minn. EcoArray expects the first gene chip in its environmental testing series to be available in April 2005.
Gene chips have grown rapidly in popularity for human disease research, but have not yet been widely adopted for environmental testing. The EPA is studying the use of chips for risk assessment and site evaluation, and this collaboration will be an important part of that effort. The purpose of the CRADA is to determine the best platform to use to construct a standard gene chip for the fathead minnow, which is the standard sentinel species for fresh water testing in the United States. The availability of an optimized gene chip for the fathead minnow will enable EPA scientists to confidentially use a high-sample number format for developing indicators of aquatic toxicity. When identified, this platform will be used to construct a larger, 2,500+ gene chip. EcoArray plans to use this common platform to release chips in several species used in environmental analysis.
The reason for using the gene chips for water testing is that chemicals present in the environment cause subtle changes in gene expression in fish found at polluted sites, gene chips detect these changes. Since different chemicals affect genes differently, there is a pattern of expression, or genetic fingerprint, that can indicate which chemicals are affecting fish or other animals living at a polluted site. Gene chips are more accurate, faster and less expensive than existing tests, and they have advantages of allowing more direct comparison to human genes, and therefore too human disease.