Zebrafish FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Do zebrafish get sick?

Yes, zebrafish get sick with diseases very similar to those that afflict human beings. Among others:

Zebrafish cancer
Inflammatory bowel disease
Neurological and behavioral disorders

They are susceptible to toxins, like those found in the environment, the negative effects of alcohol, addictive substances and have social responses to threats, fear and aggression. They are sometimes born with diseases of the nervous system , the gastrointestinal tract, and pancreas ,or the muscles and heart, bones, and nearly all the same systems that humans do. Scientists use the similarities between diseases of zebrafish and humans to discover new ways to diagnose and treat human disease.

How old and how big can a zebrafish grow?

Zebrafish start out quite small and larvae are only about 3-4 millimeters long. In three to four months they grow into adults about five centimeters long. The can reproduce sexually starting at 3 months old. Zebrafish usually live for 2-3 years, but can survive to over 4 years with appropriate care.

Are zebrafish similar to humans?

Yes! Like humans, mice, frogs, birds and all other fish with a backbone, zebrafish are a vertebrate, meaning that they have a backbone and a central nervous system that controls their behavior and movement. They also have many of the same organs that humans do, including the heart, liver, pancreas, kidney, brain, muscles, a bony skeletal system, immune system and the cells in these organs function nearly the same as human cells do in the same organs. Also, nearly all the genes in a zebrafish have a counterpart in the human genome, and the DNA encoding these genes is very similar between the two species. Scientists have discovered that many of the genes that cause human disease are completely conserved in zebrafish and, when altered, can cause the same diseases in both species.

Why do we use zebrafish to study human disease?

Please see a more complete explanation of this in the Why Zebrafish section.

Can you make designer zebrafish that are useful for research?

Yes! It is possible to make colorful types of zebrafish with fluorescent cells that can then be watched in action. It is also possible to use new genome-engineering technology to create zebrafish models of inherited human diseases.

Who uses zebrafish to study human disease?

Please check out our Research Interest Group pages for more information.

Other questions?

See this exceptional collection of questions and answers designed for K-12 education but useful to anyone: http://www.neuro.uoregon.edu/k12/FAQs.html