Scientists have for the first time sequenced the genome of a frog and in the process made an interesting discovery; some of its genetic makeup is similar to humans.
The international team of scientists, led by Uffe Hellsten of the Joint Genome Institute in the United States, has published the first genome analysis of the frog Xenopus tropicalis today in the journal Science.
Professor Grant Morahan, a geneticist at the University of Western Australia says the findings are significant.
"[You've] probably heard of the human genome program and the mouse genome program, but this is the first organism that has been sequenced that is an intermediate between fish and reptiles," he says.
The researchers found nearly 80% of all human genes associated with genetic diseases are shared with the Xenopus, including more than 1700 genes that are very similar to conditions such as cancer, asthma and heart disease.
Professor Phil Batterham of the University of Melbourne, says the similar genetic architecture means there is potential for frogs to help solve human problems.
"The specific biological advantage is that frogs develop outside the body of their mothers so you can actually watch development proceed and that is a huge advantage," he says.
"You can manipulate these organisms and work with them and experiment on them and really find the answers to many important questions that can be related to human health."
Frog specialist Professor Michael Tyler says the researchers chose Xenopus for its small genome size and because it is so common.
"Xenopus is a group of frogs confined to southern Africa better known as clawed frogs," he says.
"They live in water almost entirely. They have claws on the end of their fingers and toes, so they are rather extraordinary. There is probably no country in the world that has biological laboratories where these animals are not being kept in captivity."
Morahan says Xenopus is not as biologically relevant for human health as other species.
"I assume we will know the genome sequences of maybe 20 different mouse strains so we'll know this in much more detail than we know the frog sequence," he says.