The genome sequence of the Brown Norway rat strain is unveiled in the 01 April 2004 issue of Nature (Vol. 428, No. 6982, pp. 493-521). The rodent's DNA has been deciphered and analysed by a collaborative network of researchers, known as the Rat Genome Sequencing Project Consortium, who hope that their work will stimulate progress in medicine.
The lab rat (Rattus norvegicus) is an indispensable tool in experimental medicine and drug development, having made inestimable contributions to human health. Almost all disease-linked human genes have counterparts in the rat. Pinpointing these should help researchers to develop genetic rat models of human disease.
The sequence was obtained using a novel strategy and is a high-quality draft that covers 90% of the genome. It is the third complete mammalian genome to be decoded, allowing three-way comparisons to be made with the human and mouse genomes. The rat genome is smaller than its human equivalent, but larger than that of the mouse. All three encode a similar number of genes - probably between 25,000 and 30,000. The new information should enable researchers to determine which characteristics are specific to rodents and which are shared by all mammals.
"Beyond its value in unlocking the treasures of rat biology, analysis of the rat genome sequence will also help biologists to identify and understand human genes and gene regulation, and to study mammalian genome evolution," says Kerstin Lindblad-Toh in an accompanying News and Views feature.
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