Medical research
3:05 pm
Sat May 28, 2011

Wash U zebrafish facility opens doors to large-scale genetic research, collaboration

Washington University is now home to one of the largest zebrafish research facilities in the world.

The one-inch long, striped tropical fish serve as models for studying human development and disease, from birth defects to heart disease to cancer.

Washington University developmental geneticist Lilianna Solnica-Krezel says the 7,000 tanks of zebrafish will be fed and cleaned by 20 robotic systems.

"They have been used in a few facilities around the world, but never on such a scale,” Solnica-Krezel said. “So this will be really the most modern fish facility in the world, in terms of automation that is used for feeding zebrafish, and also for cleaning tanks and so on.”

Solnica-Krezel says zebrafish are particularly good models for studying human development.

Like most fish, they produce hundreds of eggs at a time that develop outside the mother.

“And importantly, zebrafish embryos are transparent, so we can observe development not only on the surface of the embryo, but we can see through all the internal developing structures, and that’s absolutely unique,” Solnica-Krezel said.

Solnica-Krezel says researchers can deactivate genes in the fish to study the genetic basis of birth defects.

She says the research facility will allow for large-scale genetic experiments and will facilitate collaborative research projects.