NIH Press Release
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Monday, September 15, 1997
Bill Grigg
(919) 541-2605
Tom Hawkins
(919) 541-1402

NIH Seeks Nominations for "Environmental Genome" Project --
A Study of Individual Susceptibility to Environmental Exposures

In journal advertisements and a new web page, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences today invited scientists to nominate "susceptibility" genes for a large-scale study of how these genes vary from person to person, making some people much more -- or less -- susceptible to a chemical or poison.

The large study, known as the "Environmental Genome Project," will determine the variance of about 200 selected genes in some 1,000 people representative of the population -- men and women from major population groups.

Humans have about 100,000 genes. Some are clear-cut disease genes, meaning that variations in those genes carry a strong predilection toward a particular disease.

The genes to be studied in the Environmental Genome Project are ones that make people more or less susceptible to natural and man-made chemicals, metals, dietary constituents and other environmental and workplace factors that can cause human diseases. Among these, the project seeks to identify for study 200 genes whose variations are most likely to have a major role in whether a person gets a disease or disorder following an exposure.

The study is part of the answer to why everyone has a story about an "Uncle James" who smoked, drank, ate too much, and worked in a dangerous industry -- and lived to be 102 -- whereas most other people with this history died prematurely.

NIEHS, one of the National Institutes of Health, issued its invitation to scientists in an advertisement in the scientific journals Science, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and Environmental Health Perspectives, and the science newsmagazine The Scientist, and via a webpage: where an electronic nominating form is available.

Scientists are invited to make their nominations electronically, including a rationale for including the nominated gene, and/or to participate in a Symposium on the Environmental Genome to be held Oct. 17 and 18 at the Masur Auditorium in the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md. NIEHS is one of the National Institutes of Health, as is the National Human Genome Research Institute.

The nominated genes will be peer-reviewed to determine which should be included. They may include such classes of genes as detoxification genes, DNA repair genes, cell cycle and cell death control genes, and genes mediating immune or nutritional factors.

Additional written background on the Environmental Genome Project and on the program for the Symposium is available from the contacts listed at the beginning of this release at 919/541-2605 and 919/541-1402.