24 December 2018 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Anja Aucamp
Research possibilities of zebrafish exposed
Leading global genetics laboratories are replacing research on human and animal populations with zebrafish, says Prof Paul Grobler, Head of the UFS Department of Genetics.

The UFS Department of Genetics is on par with current research trends in terms of their zebrafish project. About a year has passed since they seriously started focusing on the potential of this tiny four-centimetre-long fish, and the possibilities are hugely exciting.

Looks are deceiving

Leading global genetics laboratories are replacing research on human and animal populations with zebrafish due to several fascinating reasons, of which the most profound is probably that the zebrafish share large portions of its genome with mammals. For genetics researchers this may make a lot of sense, but most people battle to see any resemblance between a six-foot-tall rugby player or 600 kg buffalo and a small, nearly transparent fish. It is in the detail, the researchers say.

Fast, effective, and visible

“The complete genome sequence of the zebrafish is known, and as much as 84% of genes known to be associated with human disease have zebrafish counterparts,” explains Head of Department, Prof Paul Grobler. Another advantage is the fast breeding rate and short generation time, and the fact that some research is ethically more justifiable when done on fish larvae rather than on adult mammals. The fact that zebrafish embryos are virtually transparent, also allow researchers to examine the development of internal structures without effort. Every blood vessel in a living zebrafish embryo is visible under a low-power microscope.

Multidisciplinary

Zebrafish provide research potential for many different study fields besides that of Prof Grobler and his team, Sue Rica Schneider and Dr Willem Coetzer. In the near future, they aim to have undergraduate students use zebrafish as a research model to develop a real sense of research and laboratory work. The Department of Chemistry are also initiating research on zebrafish housed in the Department of Genetics.