The zebrafish (Danio rerio) is the premier non-mammalian vertebrate model organism. This small aquatic fish is utilized in multiple disciplines in the Mayo community and by over a thousand laboratories around the world because of its biological similarity to humans, its advanced molecular genetics, the elucidation of its genome sequence, and the ever-expanding and outstanding new biological tools now available to the zebrafish researcher.

The zebrafish is an outstanding system for studying processes difficult or impossible to follow in other animals such as the mechanisms underlying organogenesis. Unlike mice, this model system is readily amenable to forward genetic mutagenesis approaches for the identification of new genes required for these key developmental processes and functions. In the areas of vertebrate development biology and functional genomics, the transparency of the zebrafish embryo during development has allowed researchers to track regulation of gene expression using fluorescent protein genes in real time in living animals. Consequently, the conversion of genetic and other biological information learned from the fish to humans has been faster than in other vertebrate systems.

The growing zebrafish community at Mayo Clinic has been instrumental in the worldwide establishment of this model system. Faculty members at Mayo are developing the zebrafish for the modeling of adult cardiac disease. Mayo faculty also developed the first sequence-based targeted gene inhibition strategy, opening the door to reverse genetic approaches in the zebrafish literally deployed in every fish lab in the world. Collaborative work with Mayo zebrafish faculty is pioneering new insertional mutagenesis strategies for forward genetic screening.

These tools have lead international zebrafish researchers to identify new human genes required for the development of blood from hematopoietic stem cells, formation of blood vessels, organs such as the kidney and the heart, and, recently, in the specification of pigment differences affiliated with human race. The Mayo zebrafish community serves as a hub for the deployment of this non-mammalian vertebrate in local and international laboratories for understanding both normal development and disease.

The Mayo Zebrafish Facility plays a significant role in multiple research laboratories, serving as a critical hub for new scientists as they learn to tap into the potential of this model system. The facility serves as an important focal point for the education of other laboratories, students and visiting scientists. To date, Mayo researchers from seven different departments/divisions are members of the current user pool. New areas under development directly impact patient care, notably in the area of nicotine addiction treatment.

The scientific and technical expertise represented by the zebrafish faculty at Mayo represents an internationally recognized resource, with Stephen Ekker, Ph.D., serving as editor-in-chief for the main journal in the field, Zebrafish. While maintaining a global reach, the Zebrafish Facility is the main local scientific resource for zebrafish expertise whose vision is fully aligned to the broader vision of delivering the world's best health care at Mayo Clinic.