A faulty gene in chickens could shed light on heart disease, diabetes and even human infant mortality, according to new research.
The experts are hoping to extend their research
Researchers at the University of Abertay in Dundee have analysed the defective gene which causes inherited blindness in chickens.
They said their findings point the way to potentially important new areas of research in human health.
The work also involved Leeds University and Edinburgh's Roslin Institute.
Biotechnologist Dr Doug Lester and PhD student Hemanth Tummala were searching for the genetic mutation that causes blindness in certain chickens.
An inherited condition known as retinopathy globe enlarged (RGE) causes affected chickens to go blind within six to eight weeks of hatching.
Working with colleagues from Leeds University and Edinburgh's Roslin Institute, Dr Lester's team traced RGE's cause to a mutation of the gene known as GNB3.
The mutation deletes an essential amino acid, preventing GNB3 from playing its proper part in normal eye development.
Because the GNB3 gene is also vital for the normal functioning of important body organs, Dr Lester believes that the mutation might be a key factor in a wide range of disorders in humans.
Dr Lester said: "Interestingly the human GNB3 gene has not been previously implicated in retinal dystrophy, however a much milder human mutation has been shown to reduce the level of the GNB3 protein by 50% in many tissues of the body and this has been associated with low birth weight, obesity, hypertension, coronary heart disease, type II diabetes and depression.
"Our findings might therefore provide a useful indicator for further research into the pathogenesis of these diseases as well."