Zebrafish May Give Clues to Stomach Problems

Transparent fish offer new way to study gut development

WEDNESDAY, March 17, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Germ-free zebrafish may help scientists better understand and find ways to treat human digestive problems.

These fish, which are transparent until they reach adulthood, offer a "window" into the relationship between all animals -- including humans -- and the friendly gut bacteria that help digest food and perform other important functions.

For the first time, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown that zebrafish can be raised in a germ-free environment. This lets them observe gut development in the zebrafish with and without the beneficial effects of these symbiotic gut bacteria.

The researchers also offer the first description of which bacteria normally reside inside the zebrafish gut. The study appears online in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"To untangle the complex interactions between humans and their friendly gut bacteria, we need simple animal models that can function as living test tubes. These models are key to identifying the genes and chemicals that allow friendly bacteria to enhance our health," principal investigator Dr. Jeffrey I. Gordon, head of the molecular biology and pharmacology department, says in a prepared statement.

More information

The American Society for Microbiology has more about bacteria.

SOURCE: Washington University School of Medicine, news release, March 15, 2004
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