This Tiny, Transparent Fish Could Save Your Life

Scientists can model—and observe—diseases in the see-through bodies of zebrafish embryos and young.

For a creature that’s less than one and a half inches long, the zebrafish (Danio rerio) looms large in biomedical research.

The zebrafish is a good research stand-in for its fellow vertebrate, the human, because the two have many parts in common: brain, heart, liver, kidneys. And genome sequencing has shown that 84 percent of the genes that cause disease in humans are also found in zebrafish.

Since University of Queensland cell biologist Ben Hogan began studying zebrafish in 2001, their use in labs has soared, he says. One of the fish’s advantages is clear—literally. Because embryos are transparent and develop outside the mother’s body, scientists can manipulate genes to model human diseases and directly observe disease changes in live animals—something not possible in another common lab animal, mice.

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