I’m going to be honest. The main reason I chose the article I did was because I thought the title was clever and I got a laugh out of it. The title of the article I chose is “Transparent Fish to Make Human Biology Clearer.”
Apparently, the zebrafish has a biological structure very similar to that of human beings. Because of this, scientists have used zebrafish in stem cell research to study different diseases such as cancer. The only problem was that there were only two ways to conduct this study: either do the research in the first part of the fish’s life, or kill and dissect the fish after the disease has begun to spread.
Zebrafish are transparent for the first part of their lives. Therefore, research can be done on their organs without having to cut them open. The problem with this method is that the fish soon become thick and non-transparent, so the research must stop there.
If the scientists introduced a disease into a zebrafish and let it develop, then killed it and cut it open to study the effects of the disease, this would not get a very clear result. Dr. Richard White says, “It’s like taking a photograph when you need a video” (“Transparent Fish…”). So, doing things this way was not very effective.
Dr. White finally figured out a way to breed two different kinds of zebrafish, each with different kinds of transparent colors in their flesh, to make a zebrafish that is transparent throughout its life, rather than for just the first few weeks. Now, doctors and scientists can study the effects of certain diseases on this fish throughout its life. Since the fish is transparent, the organs are all easy to see.
Zebrafish are especially used in cancer research. One pressing problem is that scientists are not sure how cancer goes from being localized in one spot, to being spread throughout the body. The reasons for this have always been unclear, but now scientists can watch the growth of the cancer and they might be able to pinpoint the reason the disease spreads so much.
The new transparent zebrafish will also help solve problems in stem cell research and transplants. In the past, blood stem cell transplants have been helpful, but sometimes they do not work and doctors were not sure why. Now, the stem cell transplants can be monitored within the zebrafish to determine the factors that make the stem cells do what they are supposed to do.
Another amazing breakthrough with stem cell transplants and research that has come of this breakthrough, is that scientists can also now see the individual stem cells within the fish. This was not possible before. Simply by transplanting fluorescent stem cells within the transparent fish, a scientist can study the individual stem cells in detail and how they react to the rest of the body.
The reason studying the individual cells is so important is because there is a vast difference between normal cells and cancer cells. Normal cells have mechanisms which help to control their growth, while cancer cells lack this mechanism and simply grow out of control (Trosko). Only a small amount of targeted stem cells can cause cancer, so these individual cells need to be studied closely.
Tumor cells are sometimes thought of immortal because they just keep on reproducing (Trosko). Another reason stem cells are so vital to research is that they can split symmetrically and asymmetrically. This gives rise to more splits and, in the end, more cells to be studied.
More than anything, this study has shown a way to animal testing without being so wasteful. The fish are not killed to be researched, they are studied as they live. That is definitely an amazing advance for science in and of itself.
“Transparent Fish to Make Human Biology Clearer.” (2008). .
Trosko, James E. “Role of Stem Cells and Gap Junctional Intercellular Communication in Human Carcinogenesis”. Radiation Research. January 2001.