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Microsoft® Excel® spreadsheet-based animal colony management for genetically altered animals
David M. Donovan1, Daniel L. Rowley1, Nancy G. Williams2
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Figure 1.

Colony management strategy.

Figure 2.

Sample spreadsheets used in Excel workbook. (A) Genotyping database spreadsheet for a hemizygous transgenic line. (B) Breeding database spreadsheet. This spreadsheet illustrates entries describing a variety of genetic alterations: hemizygous transgenic lines (BGL, DAC), a line harboring a targeted allele that is solely producing mice for experimental use (MUKO × MUKO), and the same line harboring a targeted allele that is being used to produce breeders and is involved in a backcross (MUKO × C57). Note the sample instructions given in the flag box for DAC line 21.

The breeding database ((Figure 2)B) provides all instructions to the animal care staff that are necessary to maintain the line. The information includes ear tag information, source and genotype of breeding stock, type of genetically altered line (transgenic, knockout, knock-in, etc.), and instructions for interpreting the genotyping data. In addition, the breeding database provides breeding instructions indicating the numbers of breeding pairs, backup breeders, and experimental mice to maintain. Very important for a large facility, this database also contains information regarding the cage card designations both for breeding stock and experimental stock. This database can be modified to include any and all information needed by either the animal care staff or the end user. It is very easy to add important information for the evaluation of breeders’ performance, such as the breeders age, when the breeders were set up for breeding, when they had their first litter, how many litters they produced, each litter size, and when tails were expected for genotyping. Similarly, columns could be added to indicate the number of mice per cage, total number of cages from the same founder (or the same breeders), any phenotypes noted, and whether or not the trio is breeding. Links, such as a picture, can be added. There is also room for other idiosyncratic information or comments from the staff that are deemed essential to the breeding of that particular line. The first column on the breeding database is called the FLAG column. This is used by the end user to indicate to the animal care staff that there is a new instruction. As the end user makes standard work requests to the breeding database, the FLAG box for that strain is manually colored red, indicating to the animal care staff that there is a new instruction ((Figure 2)B, A5). The date and initials of the scientist/end user making the flagged request are also noted in the FLAG. Any questions regarding the request can usually be clarified quickly in a phone conversation, without the end user needing to go to the animal colony to give instructions in person. When the work is completed, the FLAG column works in reverse, the initials of the animal care staff, pertinent comments, and date of completion are added to the column, and the FLAG column is manually changed to green. The end user and animal care staff managers can then be informed in a timely manner when the work is completed, allowing better predictions of colony productivity and resource utilization.

The Excel workbook is extremely user-friendly, allowing the user to create separate spreadsheets for individualized needs. Each spreadsheet is accessed by clicking on a tab at the bottom of the screen and can be used for a new line or strain, a new end user, or to archive data. Technical requests such as timed matings, hormone injections, blood sampling, etc., outside of standard work requests, can also be directed to the animal care staff managers. After the manager determines resource availability and enters the request in the breeder database, copies of the request can be attached or stored in a separate spreadsheet in the Excel workbook. Thus, these separate spreadsheets allow flexibility in the organization of the database.

We have found that this process reduces the need for meetings, verbal and miscellaneous e-mail communications, and trips by the end user to the animal housing rooms. The manipulation of the Excel workbook is easily learned and establishes good “animal care staff/end user communication” with all instructions given in written format so that all managers are well informed and can thus better evaluate performance, while avoiding the problems associated with verbal miscommunications that are often routine in this process. Within a very short time, both the end user and the animal colony staff begin to appreciate the power of the Excel workbook, and staff at all levels provide feedback as to additional information needed in the colony databases for the efficient maintenance of each line. Such additions are usually easily added to the workbook.

As the colony grows, the Excel workbook might become limited in functionality. However, if the process proves successful, then the data from the workbooks can be imported into the more powerful Microsoft Access® or other relational database, which can support much larger data sets and allow the development of a system with greater capabilities. Other improvements to this strategy can also be readily established, such as a database that stores photodocumentation (e.g., electronically captured PCR results) ((Figure 3)), allowing the end user to verify the primary data from the genotyping facility.

Figure 3.

Sample PCR genotyping photodocumentation. Genomic DNA from recently weaned progeny is isolated, and PCR products specific to the transgene are sized on an agarose gel. Each lane (1,2,3,4,5,6,7) represents one animal from which the genomic DNA was derived. The positive control PCR product (A) is produced by primers that recognize an endogenous murine gene (e.g., hemoglobin) and is present in all animals. Transgenic animals are positive (+) for the transgene-specific PCR product (B). Nontransgenic animals lack the B fragment (lanes 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7) and are negative (neg) for the transgene. Other control lanes include lane 8, with no DNA sample, and lane 9, which contains the DNA size markers PhiX174HaeIII (Invitrogen, Carlsbad, CA, USA).


We would like to thank Dr. Ken Boheler for helpful discussions, Dr. Carl Pinkert for his critical review of the manuscript, and Ms. Amber Reigel for assistance with entries into the National Institute on Aging (NIA) databases. Mention of trade names or commercial products in this article is solely for the purpose of providing specific information and does not imply recommendation or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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