The A-Z of Zebra Fish
When Keene State hired Ted Zerucha, assistant professor of biology, it also adopted a shoal of zebra fish.
Zebra fish are a freshwater tropical fish, native to the Ganges River in India. The two-inch fish with translucent stripes have long been used as a model organism for scientific study, especially at the embryonic level, explains Ted. "The embryological development of zebra fish can be applied to many other animals, he says. By studying changes in early zebra fish development, says Ted, developmental biologists have learned how vertebrate organisms, including humans, grow and mature.
There are many advantages to using zebra fish for research, says Ted. The fish are easily obtained and inexpensive. Unlike mammals, such as mice, which reproduce relatively slowly, the fish can lay about 100 eggs every week. The eggs are transparent and their development can be examined under a microscope step by step. Within a day of conception, a single fertilized egg develops into a transparent embryo with eyes and a beating heart. Changes or mutations to an embryo, such as the introduction of a toxin or a disease, show up almost immediately.
Although Ted has only been at Keene State for a year, it didn't take him long to introduce the study of zebra fish into his courses. In his developmental biology class, students are studying the effects of alcohol on embryo development.
"I wanted students to test something that may be relevant to their lives," Ted says about the choice of alcohol, "so they can see how their decisions can affect their lives."
Another student is studying the effects of herbal remedies on Alzheimer's. Fish embryos modified with Alzheimer's have been "treated" with pharmaceutical drugs and herbal remedies, to see if the effect of the herb is similar to that of the drugs.
Ted's over arching reason for involving students in developmental biology experiments is to increase their awareness of global advances in biology and the implications of this work. "Students are going to be voting on issues such as cloning, stem cell research, and the human genome," he says. "They need to know the positive and negative sides of these debates."
None of this work could happen without the two aquariums of zebra fish, which currently reside in a cramped room beside Ted's office. The room also serves as a preparation area for experiments and a place to store equipment. In the new design, the fish get their own space and a second room will be a dedicated microscopy lab. Ted says he is pleased with the arrangement.
"Biology is a hands-on experimental science," he says. "To learn it, you have to do it. And the new Science Center will provide the facilities faculty members and students need for doing science."