Zebrafish Platform unveiled at Butantan Institute in São Paulo
November 04, 2015
By Karina Toledo
Agência FAPESP – A vivarium with the capacity to breed 3,000 adult zebrafish (Danio rerio) was unveiled on October 16 at the Butantan Institute in São Paulo, Brazil. The species is increasingly being used as a model in scientific research, especially in health-related research.
The Zebrafish Platform, as the new facility is known, has been set up at the Center for Research on Toxins, Immune-Response and Cell Signaling (CeTICS), one of the Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDCs) funded by FAPESP.
“We want this facility to be a home for research not just by CeTICS but also by several other groups,” said Monica Lopes-Ferreira, one of the center’s 11 principal investigators and the leader of the Zebrafish Platform. “Initially, this will entail collaboration on projects that interest our Center and potentially lead to innovation, articles and PhD theses, but in the near future we also hope to commercialize normal, mutant or GM fish and to offer services to the scientific community.”
In addition to racks to hold the zebrafish breeding tanks, the facility contains microinjectors, magnifying glasses and microscopes. CeTICS is also equipped with other advanced equipment essential to research in molecular biology, immunology, proteomics and drug development, such as a mass spectrometer, flow cytometer and sequencing instruments.
“We have the best zebrafish breeding system available and all the requisite research infrastructure,” Lopes-Ferreira said. “Recalling that most studies are done with embryos and that each mating generates 300 embryos on average, our vivarium with a capacity for 3,000 adult zebrafish can be used for a large number of projects.”
According to the head of CeTICS, Hugo Aguirre Armelin, work on designing and building the platform began about three years ago, at a time when the Butantan Institute still had a Center for Applied Toxinology (CAT), which resulted from a project approved in the RIDC program’s first call for proposals and was later replaced by CeTICS.
“When I took over as head of CAT, one of the initiatives was the creation of a structure for research using zebrafish,” Armelin said. “The zebrafish has been one of the most widely used genetic models in the world for more than two decades, yet here in Brazil there are still no labs doing genuinely competitive work in this area.”
CeTICS aims to promote the use of zebrafish in research environments where mice and rats are mainly used today, he added.
For example, Lopes-Ferreira is leading a research project in which toxins that are found in fish venom have been isolated and chemically characterized. In experiments with mice the group observed that some of these molecules can inhibit asthmatic processes.
Lopes-Ferreira now plans to extend the research by studying the effects of the toxins on zebrafish and comparing gene expression in treated and untreated groups.
In addition to a much lower breeding cost than any mammal, the zebrafish offers several advantages as a model organism, the researchers explained.
Zebrafish are easy to manage and small in size (3-4 cm). They also reproduce and develop rapidly, evolving from egg to larva in up to 72 hours and reaching adulthood at only three months of age. A zebrafish lives for about five years, compared with two for a mouse, and can be used in experiments at all stages of development.
“The fact that zebrafish embryos are totally transparent enables us to observe a number of phenomena, such as the effect of a compound on the animal’s organs, without needing to use invasive methods,” Armelin said.
According to Lopes-Ferreira, the zebrafish genome has been sequenced, and approximately 70% of its genes are similar to those of humans. “It’s relatively easy to manipulate genetically when creating models for studies of disease,” she said.
To call attention to the unveiling of the new platform, the CeTICS team offered a zebrafish management and breeding course free of charge on October 5-9. An exhibition opened to the public on October 16 with panels explaining zebrafish biology and research applications. The following day, visits to the lab and a Q&A session with Lopes-Ferreira took place as part of a round-the-clock science festival at the University of São Paulo (USP).
“Brazilian science is only now waking up to the zebrafish. Some 2,000 articles have been published worldwide on research using this model, and only 40 are by Brazilians. We want to increase that number,” Lopes-Ferreira said.
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