Review: Study of zebrafish leads to major discoveries in human genetics

By Marilyn Malara   |   May 7, 2016 at 3:38 PM

NEW YORK, May 7 (UPI) -- The similarities between the blood systems of zebrafish and humans have made the animal an attractive model of study when learning about human disorders.

In a review published in the journal Human Gene Therapy, a team of medical researchers outline the numerous discoveries uncovered through the study of zebrafish.

The Boston Children's Hospital, Serine Avagyan, Leonard Zon, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard University and Harvard Medical School Boston have partnered to publish the review, titled Fish to Learn: Insights into Blood Development and Blood Disorders from Zebrafish Hematopoiesis.

"Zebrafish have proven to be an extremely powerful model for understanding developmental biology, including the developmental biology of blood-forming tissues," Dr. Terence R. Flotte of the journal Human Gene Therapy said in a statement.

"The review from the Zon laboratory beautifully illustrates how critical such studies have been to broader progress in biomedicine, as has long been envisioned by pioneers of molecular medicine like Dr. George Stamatoyannopoulous."

The zebrafish, or Danio rerio, was first introduced to the medical research scene in the early 1980s and has since become invaluable to the further study of human blood disorders and other systems.

No other vertebrate system comes close to providing the low-cost, large-scale genetic screens that zebrafish do. Such screens can help human researchers discover in a safe manner different types of mutations in the blood and genes of the animals.

"New innovative technologies, such as state-of-the-art microscopes, novel gene targeting or gene knock-in with the CRISPR-Cas9 system, and improved transplantation assays, join the well-established and unique approaches of forward genetic and chemical screens, making the zebrafish an even more attractive platform to study human diseases," the review said.

The review's authors say further research is being done to expand what humans can learn from zebrafish systems. Some limitations still exist, but they hope advances in technology will overcome current obstacles, researchers said.

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