Cloning and sequencing techniques now allow us to characterize genes directly instead of having to deduce their properties from their effects. This new genetics reaches its apotheosis in the plan to obtain the complete DNA sequence of the human genome, but this is far beyond the capacity of present sequencing methods. Small 'model' genomes, 'such as those of Escherichia coli (4.7 megabases (Mb) and yeast (14 Mb), or even those of Caenorhabditis elegans (100 Mb) and Drosophila (165 Mb), are better scaled to existing technology. The yeast genome will contain genes with functions common to all eukaryotic cells, and those of simple multicellular organisms may throw light on the genetic specification of more complex functions. However, vertebrates differ in their morphology and development, so the ideal model would be a vertebrate genome of minimum size and complexity but with maximum homology to the human genome. Here we report the characterization of the small genome (400 Mb) of the tetraodontoid fish, Fugu rubripes. A random sequencing approach supported by gene probing shows that the haploid genome contains 400 Mb of DNA, of which more that 90% is unique. This genome is 7.5 times smaller than the human genome and because it has a similar gene repertoire it is the best model genome for the discovery of human genes.