The latest research aimed at understanding how genes function and the potential use of such knowledge to human health involves an international team of researchers who've just cracked the genetic code of an amphibian - the African clawed frog Xenopus tropicali.
The genome of Xenopus tropicalis has been analysed by an international consortium of scientists from 24 institutions, and joins a list of sequenced model organisms including the mouse, zebrafish, nematode and fruit fly.
What's most surprising, researchers say, is how closely the amphibian's genome resembles that of the mouse, the chicken and the human, with large swathes of frog DNA on several chromosomes having genes arranged in the same order as in these mammals.
"A lot of furry animals have been sequenced, but far fewer other vertebrates," said co-author Richard Harland, University of California, Berkeley, professor of molecular and cell biology.
"Having a complete catalog of the genes in Xenopus, along with those of humans, rats, mice and chickens, will help us reassemble the full complement of ancestral vertebrate genes."
The researchers found that nearly 80 per cent of all human genes associated with genetic diseases have counterparts in the western-clawed frog, Xenopus tropicalis.
This discovery could lead to a better understanding of the genetic and chemical basis for many of the human diseases.
The research, published this week in the journal Science, was led by the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute (JGI) and the University of California, Berkeley.