An Aquarium Fish That Became a Supermodel

The unassuming zebrafish is an important model organism in research worldwide, thanks to UO scientists

Video by Chris Larsen and Laurel Hamers Illustration by David Gill April 12, 2023

To learn about human health and disease, look to the zebrafish.

Scientists use these shimmery tropical fish as model organisms for research because they’re a lot like us—they share the same internal organs and many of the same genes. Moreover, they reproduce abundantly, they’re instinctively social, and their embryos are transparent—helpful for making observations.

Today, in labs around the world, scientists use zebrafish to study everything from diabetes to Parkinson’s disease. It all started in the 1960s at the University of Oregon, where biologist George Streisinger pioneered the use of zebrafish for research.

In a new Oregon Quarterly video, researchers describe the UO’s place in zebrafish research, recalling both the history of their use at the UO and the importance of these small vertebrates today for understanding concerns such as spine development.

Chris Larsen, MS ’18 (journalism), is a videographer and photographer for University Communications.

Laurel Hamers is a senior writer and editor of science and research communications for University Communications.

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