Although humans may appear to be extremely different than zebrafish, we are actually much more similar to them than you might think.
While mice have been the predominant animal bridge, recent studies show the potential of zebrafish to serve as a research alternative to mice.
Scientific research into the genetic causes of human diseases relies heavily on laboratory techniques, and patient’s cells or tissue samples. Scientists use experimental animal models to understand whether a mutation in a specific gene leads to a patient’s symptoms.
While mice and rats have been the go-to choices for modeling human diseases, using zebrafish is gaining momentum. Let’s explore the unique attributes of zebrafish and discuss how they serve as valuable models in studying human diseases.
What are Zebrafish?
Zebrafish, members of the minnow family native to India, are tropical freshwater fish distinguished by their horizontal blue stripes. In large groups called shoals, these fish have become accessible in pet shops. Surprisingly, 70% of human genes are found in zebrafish, making them a suitable model for various diseases.
Modeling Human Diseases in Zebrafish
Despite the apparent differences between humans and zebrafish, these freshwater fish share 70% of human genes. This similarity extends to various organs and biological processes, making zebrafish a viable model for studying diseases affecting humans.
Zebrafish embryos are laid externally and can be manipulated. That means scientists can inject DNA or RNA to modify their genetic makeup. Gene manipulation and the transparent nature of zebrafish embryos are unique reasons to use Zebrafish over mice.
Zebrafish, so named due to their stripes, prefer to live in large groups called shoals.
Advantages of Zebrafish Over Mice
Zebrafish offer several advantages over mice as experimental models for human diseases. Firstly, adult zebrafish are tiny, prefer living in large groups, and require less space, making them more cost-effective to maintain.
Additionally, zebrafish reproduce readily, producing a substantial number of eggs approximately every 10 days. This prolific reproductive capability facilitates repeated scientific experiments, a crucial aspect in ensuring the accuracy and reliability of research findings.
Furthermore, transparent zebrafish embryos enable researchers to observe live embryo development under a microscope. This transparency allows one to see the fluorescently labeled tissues in transgenic zebrafish embryos. Which is impossible with the opaque embryos of mice. The external fertilization of zebrafish eggs and embryos simplifies experimental procedures compared to working with mice.
Successful Disease Models in Zebrafish
Humans and zebrafish can manifest the same disease (despite how different we appear). This is why zebrafish are becoming a well-accepted animal model.
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy: Zebrafish with a knock-out of the dystrophin gene closely resemble the severity and progression of Duchenne muscular dystrophy in humans. This model aids in understanding the disease mechanism and exploring potential treatments.
Melanoma: By introducing a mutation in the BRAF gene, a common mutation in human melanomas, and adding another mutation in the SETDB1 gene, researchers demonstrate the rapid development of melanoma.
Despite their aquatic nature, zebrafish have proven to be a valuable tool in understanding and modeling human diseases. Their small size, prolific reproduction, external fertilization, and transparency make them advantageous over traditional mammalian models like mice.
As we swim into the future of disease research, zebrafish may serve as a tractable alternative. Zebra fish compliments existing approaches and offers new insights into the genetic reasons for human diseases.
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