Scientists in Trinity College Dublin have discovered a key gene that could eradicate cleft lips in children.

Millions of children are born every year (about one in 700) with a cleft lip. The group of researchers, in Dublin, hope their findings will lead to the prevention of this congenital birth defect in the future.

The Dublin team studied more than 3,500 families from around the world with most of these families being from Ireland. The results of their studies are being hailed as a breakthrough in research of this kind.

They have discovered that it is a combination of genetic and environment factors involved and they set about mapping the genes involved.

"While these findings cannot yet be used to identify infants or families at immediate risk, they do open up important new areas of biological research into the causes of cleft lip and palate," said Terri H Beaty, PhD, lead author on the study and professor of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.