Major boost for European zebrafish research

02/09/04

European Commission awards 12 million Euros to study zebrafish models for human development and disease

The zebrafish, a popular aquarium fish, is ideally suited to study the fundamental processes underlying embryonic development and the genetic basis of diseases. In recent years it has become one of the favourite model organisms of academic scientists and the biotech industry, and deciphering of its genome is already underway.

In the face of strong transatlantic competition, the European Commission has now decided to boost European zebrafish research by making it a flagship project of its 6th Framework Programme. The Integrated Project, ZF-MODELS, will bring together 15 leading European research institutions (see list below). Over five years, these institutions will receive a total budget of 12,400,000 Euros. 12,000,000 Euros will be contributed by the European Commission and 400,000 Euros by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

The partners of the ZF-MODELS project will join forces to work towards a common goal: to gain new insights into the genetic control of fundamental biological processes relevant for human disease, such as development, physiology and behaviour. The results, they hope, will form a basis for the development of new or improved therapies. Targets of the project will be common diseases such as cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, muscular dystrophies, eye diseases and behavioural disorders, as well as resistance to infections and wound healing.

To reach its aims the project will use advanced scientific tools that have only recently been developed by zebrafish researchers, and apply them on a massive scale and in an integrated fashion. Highlights of the project will include:

Mutagenesis projects that will bring together scientists from all over Europe to examine zebrafish carrying genetic mutations. In addition to the mutants with defects in early development identified in previous projects, a focus will be on mutations that affect the adult fish, since these are of special interest for human diseases.

The analysis of the activity (expression) of tens of thousands of zebrafish genes on gene chips (microarrays) that will help to understand how they regulate each other's activity during normal development, and how this regulation is disturbed in mutants.

The generation of thousands of fish expressing Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) controlled by the enhancer sequences of specific genes. Under UV light, tissues of these fish will light up indicating wherever the respective gene is active.

A facility to knock-out genes that will provide European researchers with zebrafish mutants for specific genes on demand. This will let them study genes of particular interest for which no mutant is found in the mutagenesis projects. The knock-out fish will be suitable as models for human diseases and the development of therapies.

A European zebrafish database that will integrate all project data in a three-dimensional anatomical atlas of zebrafish development, linked with the relevant gene activities. This database will be accessible through the project web site (www.zf-models.org) and will be open to scientists and the interested public world-wide.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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