We recently identified approximately 1400 conserved non-coding elements (CNEs) shared by the genomes of fugu (Takifugu rubripes) and human that appear to be associated with developmental regulation in vertebrates [Woolfe, A., Goodson, M., Goode, D.K., Snell, P., McEwen, G.K., Vavouri, T., Smith, S.F., North, P., Callaway, H., Kelly, K., Walter, K., Abnizova, I., Gilks, W., Edwards, Y.J.K., Cooke, J.E., Elgar, G., 2005. Highly conserved non-coding sequences are associated with vertebrate development. PLoS Biol. 3 (1), e7]. This study encompassed a multi-disciplinary approach using bioinformatics, statistical methods and functional assays to identify and characterise the CNEs. Using an in vivo enhancer assay, over 90% of tested CNEs up-regulate tissue-specific GFP expression. Here we review our group's research in the field of characterising non-coding sequences conserved in vertebrates. We take this opportunity to discuss our research in progress and present some results of new and additional analyses. These include a phylogenomics analysis of CNEs, sequence conservation patterns in vertebrate CNEs and the distribution of human SNPs in the CNEs. We highlight the usefulness of the CNE dataset to help correlate genetic variation in health and disease. We also discuss the functional analysis using the enhancer assay and the enrichment of predicted transcription factor binding sites for two CNEs. Public access to the CNEs plus annotation is now possible and is described. The content of this review was presented by Dr. Y.J.K. Edwards at the TODAI International Symposium on Functional Genomics of the Pufferfish, Tokyo, Japan, 3-6 November 2004. © 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.