The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) on Wednesday announced the new species would join the rat, mouse, dog and chimpanzee in the growing menagerie of animals having their genomes sequenced.

Now that gene sequencing technology has been perfected and accelerated, researchers plan to push ahead with their scrutiny of animal DNA to find clues about human disease, basic biology and evolution.

Comparing human DNA to animal DNA can provide valuable insights into medicine, which is why popular lab animals such as rats, mice, cats and dogs are at the front of the line.

Common links

People and animals share much of their DNA and various animals have been used for years as ''models'' of human disease.

Knowing which genes are involved in an animal version of a disease can help pinpoint the similar human gene.

And comparing human genes to those of our closest relatives – the chimpanzee and orangutan – can help scientists define what it means to be human

"With each new genome that we sequence, we move closer to the goal of finding all of the crucial elements of the human genome involved in development, health and disease," said Mark Guyer, who directs research programmes funded by NHGRI.

The 18 animals named for sequencing include the orangutan, European common shrew, European hedgehog, guinea pig, lesser hedgehog tenrec, nine-banded armadillo, rabbit and domestic cat.