Why are Zebrafish Used in Research?

Niharika Arya Feb 8, 2019
Zebrafish have been used in medical research and development since the 1970s. Let us find out what makes them the ideal specimen for genetic and biological research.

Did You Know?

George Streisinger, a scientist from the University of Oregon in Eugene, USA, in the 1970s and 80s, recognized the potential of zebrafish in developmental biology and genetic research.
Zebrafish are considered an ideal research specimen because they possess many similarities to us humans like, they have a backbone, brain, heart, liver, spinal cord, kidneys, and several other organs. This makes them perfect for researches related to the betterment of humans.
As Zebrafish is not a mammals, we cannot consider them exactly similar to us, but it has proved beneficial in many researches. Zebrafish have been used in medical researches for various diseases like cancer, melanoma, cardiovascular disease, etc. They have also played a major role in the discovery of many therapeutic drugs.
Zebrafish are very useful in the study of gene mutation and other genetic analysis. But the question still remains as to why are zebrafish considered one of the best research specimens?

Zebrafish are Vertebrates

Zebrafish have a backbone, and hence, are included in vertebrates, like humans.
Zebrafish shares similar biological traits with us humans, like genes, developmental process, behavior, anatomy, etc. This makes them perfect for tests and experiments which may prove helpful for human beings.

Eggs are Fertilized Externally

Females lay a large number of eggs outside the body which are then fertilized by the male. This is an external process which can be monitored and observed easily. As there are a large number of eggs, scientists can get required samples easily.

Transparent Embryo

Zebrafish are used for experiments because their embryo is transparent. You can see each and every stage of its development clearly. You can monitor the behavior of cell division, and formation of the heart, brain, and other parts of their body.

Embryo Develops Externally

As the fertilization takes place outside the female's body, the development also takes place outside. In order to study a mouse embryo's developmental stages, the mother mouse needs to be killed along with the embryo. But in zebrafish, scientists can study every stage of the embryo without harming the mother, as the embryo develops outside the body.

Embryo Develops Quickly

Embryo development in zebrafish occurs rapidly, and it transforms into a tiny fish within 24 hours, whereas mice take almost 21 days to develop. This saves time, since results are obtained quickly.

Easy to Manipulate

Zebrafish can be easily manipulated, and are easy to maintain. They are small in size, and hence, require less space. It is easier to trace their development, and are easy to breed. Characteristics of a single parent can also be studied.

Cheaper than Other Vertebrates

They are cheaper than other vertebrate research specimens like mice, and can be found in large numbers. Once bred, you can get a lot of research samples to study. Zebrafish are easy to handle because of their small size, and hence, can be easily accommodated.
Various scientists are using zebrafish for research on diseases such as diabetes, neurodegenerative disease, muscle diseases, immune system-related diseases, etc. In a way, we can say that scientists are still exploring the potential of this tiny fish.
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