Zebrafish (Danio rerio) have proven to be an outstanding animal model for exploring vertebrate development and genetics (Detrich et al., 1999). Zebrafish have several advantages for study of developmental biology, including conservation of developmental genes across vertebrates, small size (which allows for large numbers of animals to be kept in a relatively small area), their external fertilization and transparent embryos (allowing direct visualization of development), the ease with which water soluble drugs and chemicals can be administered, and their amenability to large-scale saturation mutagenesis studies. These are unique aspects of zebrafish among currently used vertebrate animal models. Ongoing activities in the zebrafish community have resulted in a multitude of resources available to researchers using this animal model. For example, the formation of a National Zebrafish Stock Center (University of Oregon) has provided a central resource for wild-type stocks, mutant and transgenic lines, and extensive information on genetics of zebrafish. In addition, a variety of antibodies and cDNA libraries are available, and an extensive informatic web-based network has been created (Sprague et al., 2003).
Furthermore, the extensive genetic characterizations that zebrafish have undergone, including a detailed microsatellite genetic linkage map (Knapik et al., 1998) and the ability to select for mutagenized genes (Wienholds et al., 2003), provides a cutting edge ability to rapidly take advantage of this animal model.
The widespread resources and genetic characterization of these animals have led to many exciting discoveries related to developmental biology. However, this wealth of resources has been underexploited for evaluation of biology or pathophysiology of mature zebrafish. Most scientists evaluate zebrafish at the embryonic/neonate stages after mutagenesis or toxin exposure. Thus, it is plausible that many mutation- or toxic-mediated effects that occur in late life will not be identified. It follows that a wealth of information with great relevance to human biology and disease is being overlooked (Dooley et al., 2000).
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