Secrets of the Pufferfish Could Help Scientists Unravel Human Genome; RESEARCH: Information 'Will Be Instrumental in Fight against Genetic Disease'

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A POISONOUS tropical fish eaten as a delicacy in Japan could provide key clues for scientists unravelling the secrets of the human genome.

A team of researchers from the UK, US and Singapore said yesterday that they had completed the first draft of the genetic blueprint of the pufferfish (Fugu rubripes).

The project is the biggest gene mapping exercise since the programme to sequence the human genome.

Scientists are keen to work out the DNA patterns of the pufferfish because they could provide an invaluable tool for deciphering human genes.

The pufferfish is only the second vertebrate animal genome to be sequenced and, like the mouse, has almost the same number of genes as a human.

What makes the fish special is the fact that its genome is eight times more compact than a human's. Its genes - stretches of DNA which code for proteins - are more closely packed, and less separated by "junk" DNA.

Important regions can therefore quickly be highlighted by scientists comparing pufferfish and human genes, many of which are comparable.

For instance, genes which decide where a fin will be placed and what it looks like may be present in humans but act slightly differently to produce a leg. …