A key challenge of functional genomics today is to generate well-annotated data sets that can be interpreted across different platforms and technologies. Large-scale functional genomics data often fail to connect to standard experimental approaches of gene characterization in individual laboratories. Furthermore, a lack of universal annotation standards for phenotypic data sets makes it difficult to compare different screening approaches. Here we address this problem in a screen designed to identify all genes required for the first two rounds of cell division in the Caenorhabditis elegans embryo. We used RNA-mediated interference to target 98% of all genes predicted in the C. elegans genome in combination with differential interference contrast time-lapse microscopy. Through systematic annotation of the resulting movies, we developed a phenotypic profiling system, which shows high correlation with cellular processes and biochemical pathways, thus enabling us to predict new functions for previously uncharacterized genes.
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