Zebrafish: It's not your parents' lab rat

July 30, 2007

Zebrafish cost about a dollar at the pet store. They grow from eggs to hunting their own food in three days. Adults can lay up to 500 eggs at once… and you have more in common with them than you think.

"For all their differences, humans and zebrafish aren't that dissimilar," said Rice University zebrafish expert Mary Ellen Lane. "For every zebrafish gene we isolate, there is a related gene in humans."

In her most recent work, Lane, graduate students Catherine McCollum and Shivas Amin, and undergraduate Philip Pauerstein zeroed in on a gene called LMO4 that's known to play roles in both cell reproduction and in breast cancer. Using the tools of biotechnology, the team studied zebrafish that couldn't transcribe the LMO4 gene, and they observed marked enlargement in both the forebrain and optical portions of the embryos. When they overexpressed the LMO4 gene, making more protein than normal, those same areas shrank. The study will appear later this year in the journal Developmental Biology.

"The study suggests that LMO4 independently regulates two other genes that promote growth in those areas of the embryo," said Lane, assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology. "It fills in another piece of the bigger picture of what's going on during neurological development."

Zebrafish -- like rats and fruit flies before them -- are becoming regular contributors on research ranging from cancer to cocaine addiction. For example, zebrafish were used a landmark 2005 study that led scientists to the human gene that regulates skin color.

Lane's zebrafish studies explore one the major unexplained areas in developmental biology -- how the brain and central nervous system develop. It helps that zebrafish embryos grow from just a single cell to having a forebrain, hindbrain, spinal column and eye within a scant 24 hours. It also helps that the embryos are transparent and develop outside their mothers' bodies -- and can thus been seen under a microscope at every step of their development.

"It's a beautiful organism for experiment," Lane said. "It develops in a very regular way, so any abnormality is easy to spot, even for undergraduates with only a few days training."

Source: Rice University

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Canada conservationist warns of 'cyber poaching'

February 25, 2017

Photographers, poachers and eco-tour operators are in the crosshairs of a Canadian conservationist who warns that tracking tags are being hacked and misused to harass and hunt endangered animals.

The dawn of a new era for Supernova 1987a (Update)

February 24, 2017

Three decades ago, astronomers spotted one of the brightest exploding stars in more than 400 years. The titanic supernova, called Supernova 1987A (SN 1987A), blazed with the power of 100 million suns for several months following ...

Polymer additive could revolutionize plastics recycling

February 24, 2017

When Geoffrey Coates, the Tisch University Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, gives a talk about plastics and recycling, he usually opens with this question: What percentage of the 78 million tons of plastic used ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.