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For the venomous Australian coral reef fish which is also known as zebrafish, see red lionfish.
style="background:#Template:Taxobox colour;"|Danio rerio

style="background:#Template:Taxobox colour;" | Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Cypriniformes
Family: Cyprinidae
Genus: Danio
Species: D. rerio
Binomial name
Danio rerio
(Hamilton-Buchanan, 1822)
  • Barilius rerio
  • Cyprinus chapalio
  • Brachydanio rerio
  • Cyprinus rerio
  • Danio frankei
  • Danio lineatus
  • Nuria rerio
  • Perilampus striatus

The zebrafish or zebra danio, Danio rerio, is a coldwater fish belonging to the minnow family (Cyprinidae).[1] It is a popular aquarium fish, frequently sold under the trade name zebra danio, and is also an important model organism in scientific research.


The zebrafish is a derived member of the genus Danio. It has a sister group relationship with Danio kyathit.[2]


The zebrafish is native to the streams of the southeastern Himalayan region.[2] It arose in the Ganges region in Eastern India and is also native to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Myanmar.[citation needed] It commonly inhabits streams, canals, ditches, ponds, and slow-moving to stagnant water bodies, including rice fields.[citation needed]

Zebrafish have been introduced in aquariums in Japan, the United States and Australia.[1] They have also been sighted in Colombia, presumably having escaped from an aquarium.


The fish is named for its five uniform, pigmented, horizontal blue stripes on the side of the body, all of which extend to the end of the caudal fin. Males are torpedo shaped and have gold stripes between the blue stripes; females have a larger, whitish belly and have silver stripes instead of gold. The zebrafish grows to 6.4 cm (2.5 inches), lives for around 5 years, and produces 300-500 eggs per spawning.


Recently, transgenic zebrafish have become commercially available that express green fluorescent protein, red fluorescent protein, and yellow fluorescent protein. They are tradenamed GloFish. Other varieties include golden, sandy, longfin and leopard.

The Leopard danio, previously known as Danio frankeri, is a spotted colour morph of the zebrafish Danio rerio caused by a pigment mutation.[3] Xanthistic forms of both the zebra and leopard pattern, along with long-finned varieties have been obtained via selective breeding programs for the aquarium trade.[4]

Common strains

There are four common strains of zebrafish: AB, TÜ, IN for India and WIK.

Aquarium care

Zebrafish are hardy fish and considered good for beginner aquarists. Their ease of keeping and breeding, beauty, price, playful nature and broad availability all contribute to their popularity. They thrive best at temperatures above 22 degrees Celsius (71.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and below 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit). They feed on worms and small crustaceans and on insect larvae. They also thrive as shoals of 6 or more, although they do interact well with other fish types in the Aquarium. However, they are susceptible to Oodinium, or Velvet disease, Microsporidia (Pseudoloma neurophilia), and mycobacterium species.

Model organism for development and genetics

Zebrafish chromatophores, shown here mediating background adaptation, are studied by scientists

D. rerio are a common and useful model organism for studies of vertebrate development and gene function.[2] They may supplement or replace higher vertebrate models, such as rats and mice. Pioneering work of George Streisinger at the University of Oregon established the zebrafish as a model organism; its importance was consolidated by large scale forward genetic screens (commonly referred to as the Tübingen/Boston screens). The scholarly journal Development devoted an issue to research using the fish in celebration of this landmark. [2] An online database of zebrafish genetic, genomic, and developmental information, the Zebrafish Information Network (ZFIN), has been established. D. rerio is one of the few species of fish to have been flown into space (see Animals in space).

File:Zebrafish embryos.png
A Zebrafish Pigment Mutant. The mutant called bleached blond was produced by insertional mutagenesis. The embryos in the picture are four days old. At the top is a wild-type embryo, below is the mutant. The mutant lacks black pigment in the melanocytes because it fails to synthesise melanin properly.

Zebrafish embryonic development provides advantages over other vertebrate model organisms. Although the overall generation time of zebrafish is comparable to that of mice, zebrafish embryos develop rapidly, progressing from eggs to larvae in under three days. The embryos are large, robust, and transparent and develop externally to the mother, characteristics which all facilitate experimental manipulation and observation. [5] Their nearly constant size during early development facilitates simple staining techniques, and drugs may be administered by adding directly to the tank. Unfertilised eggs can be made to divide, and the two-celled embryo fused into a single cell, creating a fully homozygous embryo.

A common reverse genetics technique is to reduce gene expression or modify splicing in zebrafish using Morpholino antisense technology. Morpholino oligonucleotides are stable, synthetic macromolecules that contain the same bases as DNA or RNA; by binding to complementary RNA sequences, they reduce the expression of specific genes. The journal Genesis devoted an issue to research using Morpholino oligos[3], mostly in D. rerio. Morpholino oligonucleotides can be injected into one cell of a zebrafish embryo after the 32-cell stage, producing an organism in which gene expression is reduced in only the cells descended from the injected cell. However, cells in the early embryo (<32 cells) are interpermeable to large molecules[4], [5], allowing diffusion of Morpholinos between cells. A known problem with gene knockdowns in zebrafish is that, because the genome underwent a duplication after the divergence of ray-finned fishes and lobe-finned fishes, it is not always easy to silence the activity one of the two gene paralogs reliably due to complementation by the other paralog.

Despite the complications of the zebrafish genome a number of commercially available global platforms for analysis of both gene expression by microarrays and promoter regulation using ChIP-on-chip exist.

Zebrafish have the ability to regenerate fins, skin, the heart and the brain (in larval stages). Zebrafish have also been found to regenerate photoreceptors and retinal neurons following injury. The mechanisms of this regeneration are unknown, but are currently being studied. Researchers frequently cut the dorsal and ventral tail fins and analyze their regrowth to test for mutations. This research is leading the scientific community in the understanding of healing/repair mechanisms in vertebrates.

Recent developments

In December 2005, a study of the golden strain identified the gene responsible for the unusual pigmentation of this strain as SLC24A5, a solute carrier that appears to be required for melanin production, and confirmed its function with a Morpholino knockdown. The orthologous gene was then characterized in humans and a one base pair difference was found to segregate strongly between fair-skinned Europeans and dark-skinned Africans.[6] This study featured on the cover of the academic journal Science and demonstrates the power of zebrafish as a model organism in the relatively new field of comparative genomics.

In January 2007, Chinese researchers at Fudan University raised genetically modified fish that can detect estrogen pollution in lakes and rivers, showing environmental officials what waterways need to be treated for the substance, which is linked to male infertility. Song Houyan and Zhong Tao, professors at Fudan's molecular medicine lab, spent three years cloning estrogen-sensitive genes and injecting them into the fertile eggs of zebrafish. The modified fish turn green if they are placed into water that is polluted by estrogen.[7]

On August 1, 2007, researchers at University College London said they had grown in the laboratory a type of adult stem cell found in the eyes of fish and mammals that develops into neurons in the retina. These cells could be injected in the eye to treat all diseases where the retinal neurons are damaged — nearly every disease of the eye, including macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetes-related blindness. Damage to the retina — the part of the eye that sends messages to the brain — is responsible for most cases of sight loss. The researchers studied Mueller glial cells in the eyes of humans aged from 18 months to 91 years and were able to develop them into all types of neurons found in the retina. They were also able to grow them easily in the lab, they reported in the journal Stem Cells. The cells were tested in rats with diseased retinas, where they successfully migrated into the retina and took on the characteristics of the surrounding neurons. Now the team is working on the same approach in humans.[8]

In February 2008, researchers at Children's Hospital Boston are breeding zebrafish with see-through bodies in order to make studying disease processes easier, including the spread of cancer.[9]

See also


  1. Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. "Danio rerio". FishBase. Retrieved 2007-04-07.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Mayden, Richard L. (2007). "Phylogenetic relationships of Danio within the order Cypriniformes: a framework for comparative and evolutionary studies of a model species". J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.). 308B: 642–654. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)
  3. Watanabe M, Iwashita M, Ishii M, Kurachi Y, Kawakami A, Kondo S, Okada N. (2006) Spot pattern of leopard Danio is caused by mutation in the zebrafish connexin41.8 gene. EMBO Report.7: 893-897.
  4. Mills D (1993) Aquarium Fish Harper Collins ISBN 0-7322-5012-9
  5. Dahm, Ralf (2006), "The Zebrafish Exposed", American Scientist, 94 (5): pp. 446-453

Further reading

External links


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