Unless your father was a prince with a shady past, you probably haven't thought much about how related you are to a frog lately. But it turns out that about 80 percent of the genes known to cause diseases in humans have counterparts in the genome of Xenopus tropicalis—the western clawed frog native to sub-Saharan Africa.
Scientists at the Joint Genome Institute in California revealed the Xenopus genome in the April 30 issue of Science. It's the first frog to have its genetic code cracked and the first amphibian.
The researchers compared the frog's roughly 20,000 genes to those of humans and chickens. They were looking for areas of so-called "conserved synteny." That's science-speak for strikingly similar stretches of genetic code in these distantly related animals.
The sequences shed light on the last common ancestor of amphibians, birds and, yes, humans. Which our current best estimates say was an animal that lived roughly 360 million years ago.
Unfortunately, frogs the world over are suffering a mass extinction. Perhaps something in the newly cracked genetic code can help save them before they croak.