Animal rights activists like to claim that non-humans are simply too different to serve as models for human beings, but scientists at the Energy Department’s Joint Genome Institute hope that decoding the genome of the fugu, a poisonous fish considered a delicacy in Japan, will yield important clues about how human genes work.
The JGI hopes to have the a preliminary version of the fugu genome finished by spring of 2001. Why the fugu?
“The fugu has a small and compact genome, on the order of a tenth the size of the human genome, and yet whenever researchers have gone into the fugu and looked for human genes, by and large they’ve found them,” Trever Hawkins, director of JGI, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
While the human genome consists of about 3.4 billion different chemical building blocks, the fugu’s genome only has about 400 million different chemical building blocks. Since both fugu and human beings must have had a common ancestor, the working hypothesis is that any genes that the fugu and human beings share in common are likely to be extremely important ones. JGI scientist Paul Predki told the Chronicle, “The intent is to use the fugu sequence as a comparison. We believe it contains essentially the same complement of genes as human DNA.”
Over the next couple decades, medical research is likely to be revolutionized by a knowledge gained by comparing human and non-human genomes combined with the increasingly sophisticated ability to manipulate and modify genes.
Fishing for clues: the genetic map of the lowly fugu could help scientists decipher the human blueprint. Tom Abate, The San Francisco Chronicle, December 11, 2000.