Next time you walk by fish for sale in a pet store, take a look at a tank full of zebrafish. Then, smile about the major contributions zebrafish are making to human health through their relative transparency, their physical structures, and their genes. Really? Absolutely!
But first, a few words about another little known part of science – Cold Spring Harbor. While reading the press release, note its mention that the annual zebrafish research conference was first held at Cold Spring Harbor. CSH, as its known, is a revered research institute among molecular biologists – its main history page runs quickly through just some of its many important places in the history of genetics and molecular biology. CSH was led at one point by James Watson of DNA fame, and his seminal work was first announced at a CSH conference. CSH also was a research home to Barbara McClintock, a cell genetics researcher who won a Nobel Prize in physiology – in 1983 – for work she did at Cold Spring Harbor in 1944. Thus, almost forty years later she alone was honored for discovering transposons, which are the so-called jumping genes involved in genetic mutations. Sadly, the history of CHS is not all positive – it also was the early 1900s home to misguided eugenics work. On the brighter side, cancer research fundamentals also was occurring at CSH back in the early 1900s. The CSH history page explains:
"In 1916, Clarence Little—studying the genetics of cancer in mice—discovered that Japanese “waltzing” mice, but not other mouse strains, were susceptible to transplanted sarcomas (connective tissue cancers). In 1928, E. Carleton MacDowell discovered a strain of mice predisposed to spontaneous leukemia. Subsequent breeding experiments led to the development of mice with increased susceptibility or resistance to the cancer. MacDowell’s work is a cornerstone of modern cancer research."
Returning to the zebrafish and genetics, the ScienceDaily summary was created from just part of the materials released by the Genetics Society of America in connection with the 2012 International Zebrafish Development Conference, held June 20-24 in Madison, Wisconsin. For those of us who missed the conference announcement, some background from the press release is set out below.
ABOUT THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ZEBRAFISH GENETICS AND DEVELOPMENT: The zebrafish emerged as a major model system in 1994 with the first international conference at Cold Spring Harbor with 350 participants. This year the zebrafish community celebrates its 10th biennial international conference with more than 900 participants in Madison, WI. Studies using the zebrafish as a model system have allowed us to understand the genetic control of early development that underlie many human diseases. For more information about the conference, see http://www.zebrafishgenetics.org//
Now to specifics. Set out below is one excerpt from a ScienceDaily summary of several specific examples of using zebrafish genes in research to improve human health – in this instance, the genetics of leukemias and lymphomas: