Zebrafish are tropical freshwater fish that are part of the minnow family. Native to the Himalayan Region, they are naturally found to be shoal fish and tend to live in shallow ponds and standing waters and often the most abundant fish in the waters they inhabit. They are popular aquarium fish as they are robust and hardy, as well as pretty on the eyes. It is an omnivore, eating many different things from mud and sand, insects and arachnids, plants and algae to fish scales and even rubbish.
Zebrafish have 25 chromosomes and their genome consists of about 1.5 x 10 billion basepairs, compared with mammalian genome sizes of about 3 x 10 billion basepairs. This is rather incredibly as they are such a small organism compared to many of the mammalian organisms out there.
Zebra are also highly used within modern medical and scientific research. One such example of this comes from early 2007, when a team of Chinese researchers genetically modified Zebrafish in order to use them as estrogen markers – the Zebrafish would turn green if in water contaminated with estrogen! This helped them identify the extent of estrogen pollution in lakes and rivers around the Fudan area of China, thus linking as the cause of the male infertility in these areas.
The reason that Zebrafish are so adept for use within medical research is due to several of their genetic factors. These factors include such things as their short life-span and the transparency of their embryos. Many different mutations that disrupt embryonic development have been isolated in Zebrafish as many of these mutations serve as models for human diseases. This means that we will be able to more closely understand the genetic network controlling development of vertebrates, including humans.
The Zebrafish has been used in scientific research moving towards development of a cure or form of prevention for cancer, melanoma, and cardiovascular disease. On top of this they have also helped unlock new areas of science within the field of repairing retinal damage, and helping bolster the human immune system.