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Fish tales, on the up and up

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2005 - Spring


Last September, I was listening to a lecture in the Anlyan Center when a fascinating bit of data flashed on the screen. Assistant Professor of Genetics Zhaoxia Sun, Ph.D. ’98, was describing her use of zebrafish as a model organism for the study of polycystic kidney disease and alluded to how compact and convenient they are for laboratory work. The 600 small tanks on racks in her lab at the medical school can hold as many as 15,000 zebrafish, a species whose DNA bears a remarkable similarity to our own genetic code. Given the rapidity with which zebrafish develop (from egg to fish in a day), Sun has a powerful resource for conducting genetic studies relevant to human illness.

We wondered what other aquatic organisms were assisting scientists at the School of Medicine as they explore the dimensions of normal biology and disease. Sea hares, with their elongated neurons, and sea squid, with synapses so wide they can be seen without a microscope, are among the creatures writer Jennifer Kaylin encountered while reporting this issue’s cover story (“Lessons From the Depths”). She also learned how knowledge of chloride transport in dogfish sharks may one day help solve the riddle of cystic fibrosis and how a professor of physiology and neurobiology is exploring Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to discover and clone new fluorescent proteins from coral. These molecules may prove useful for tagging cells and exposing what happens inside them—in real time and brilliant color.

Science and medicine are always changing, and it’s gratifying to know that Yale faculty are leading the way in areas such as these, asking the questions that open doors to new knowledge. That curiosity and sense of adventure can only benefit doctors and patients around the world—and across the seven seas—for years to come.

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