Glow-in-the-dark zebrafish at UH hold keys to biological clocks

January 31, 2005

HOUSTON - Using genetically altered zebrafish that glow in the dark, University of Houston researchers have found new tools that shed light upon biological clock cycles.

Gregory M. Cahill, associate professor of biology and biochemistry at UH, and Maki Kaneko, a fellow UH researcher who is now at the University of California-San Diego, presented their findings in a paper titled "Light-dependent Development of Circadian Gene Expression in Transgenic Zebrafish," appearing Feb. 1 in the Public Library of Science's PLoS Biology, an online journal that, along with PLoS Medical, is committed to making scientific and medical literature a public resource.

"By injecting the luc gene that makes fireflies glow into our zebrafish, our bottom-line finding goes back to nature versus nurture," Cahill said. "We found that these per3-luc zebrafish contain something in their genetic makeup that gets their clocks ticking without parental influence, however, we determined that it does take some sort of environmental input for the clock to start. In this case it was exposure to light/dark cycles after the fourth day of development, about the age when the fish start to swim and feed."

The researchers used zebrafish (danio rerio) because they yield such a high output of spawn, with hundreds of eggs being laid by each female per week. This gives the scientists a better chance of identifying mutant fish whose biological clocks run fast or slow, providing the ability to trace the specific genes that create the anomaly. Putting UH a bit ahead of other institutions engaged in this type of research, Cahill and his team will be able to analyze more than 2,000 zebrafish per week. The per3-luc zebrafish is the first vertebrate system available for this level of high-throughput measurement.

"Because we can test so many zebrafish at a time, the one in a thousand odds of finding a mutant are more easily and efficiently attainable," Cahill said. "Ultimately, this type of research can help with tracing why humans develop such things as sleep disorders or mental illnesses like depression."

Per3 is the naturally occurring clock-regulated gene. The protein that it encodes is produced at highest levels near dawn, and when the luc gene is inserted into it, the luciferase protein is produced in a similar way. The result is that these fish glow rhythmically, emitting more light during the day than during the night. The amount of light is below the level of detection by the human eye, but it is easily measured with an instrument called a luminometer.

"This has given us the tool we need to find other parts of systems that influence biological clocks," Cahill said. "We are optimistic that this will shed light upon such things as reproduction in other light-dependent animals."

These findings have laid the groundwork for further study along these lines. With a team now built, UH graduate students who assisted with this project are now trained to work with Cahill to implement the next steps of this research.

Prior to coming to UH in 1994, Cahill was a research assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy and Cell biology at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City and received his postdoctoral training at Emory University. He received his doctorate in biology and neuroscience from the University of Oregon in Eugene, where he studied the mechanisms of circadian responses to light. He graduated with his bachelor of science from the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis/St. Paul. His research interests include molecular, cellular and physiological mechanisms of vertebrate circadian rhythmicity, photoreceptor cell and molecular biology, and neurobiology. He is a member of the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms and the Society for Neuroscience and is currently funded under a $1.2 million National Institutes of Health grant through 2007 as the principal investigator on "Genetic analysis of zebrafish circadian rhythmicity," under which this latest study falls.
-end-
UH's Biological Clocks Program is one of the world's leading centers for circadian rhythms research, with five laboratories and a team of more than 30 scholars. In addition to Cahill, the group is led by four other tenured faculty members in the biology and biochemistry department - Professor Stuart Dryer, Professor Arnold Eskin, Professor Paul Hardin and Professor Michael Rea. For more information on the biological clocks program at UH, visit http://www.bchs.uh.edu/research_clocks.htm.

PLoS Biology was first published in October 2003 and has been embraced worldwide by scientists, as well as receiving international media acclaim for the high-impact research it publishes. The PLoS is a nonprofit organization of scientists and physicians dedicated to opening doors to a worldwide library of the latest scientific research, giving unlimited access to scientists, physicians, patients and students, alike. The ultimate goal is to enable anyone with interest to develop innovative ways to implement the world's vast treasury of scientific ideas and discoveries. For more information and a copy of Cahill and Kaneko's article, visit www.plos.org.

SOURCE: Cahill, 713-743-2694; gcahill@uh.edu

Web page: http://vnet.uh.edu/webpages/bio/homepage_bio.lasso?155622-961-5=gcahill#

About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas' premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.

For more information about UH, visit the university's Newsroom at www.uh.edu/newsroom.

To receive UH science news via e-mail, visit www.uh.edu/admin/media/sciencelist.html.

University of Houston

Related Zebrafish Articles from Brightsurf:

Zebrafish embryos help prove what happens to nanoparticles in the blood
What happens to the nanoparticles when they are injected into the bloodstream, for example, to destroy solid tumours?

Social experiences impact zebrafish from an early age
Study in zebrafish demonstrates that early social experiences have an effect on the behaviour of the fish even at an age when they are still not considered ''social''.

How zebrafish maintain efficient and fair foraging behaviours
New insight on how zebrafish achieve near-optimal foraging efficiency and fairness among groups has been published today in the open-access journal eLife.

How the zebrafish got its stripes
Animal patterns are a source of endless fascination, and now researchers at the University Bath have worked out how zebrafish develop their stripes.

Extraordinary regeneration of neurons in zebrafish
Biologists from the University of Bayreuth have discovered a uniquely rapid form of regeneration in injured neurons and their function in the central nervous system of zebrafish.

Zebrafish teach researchers more about atrial fibrillation
Genetic research in zebrafish at the University of Copenhagen has surprised the researchers behind the study.

How decisions unfold in a zebrafish brain
Researchers were able to track the activity of each neuron in the entire brain of zebrafish larvae and reconstruct the unfolding of neuronal events as the animals repeatedly made 'left or right' choices in a behavioral experiment.

'Census' in the zebrafish's brain
Dresden scientists have succeeded in determining the number and type of newly formed neurons in zebrafish; practically conducting a 'census' in their brains.

Zebrafish 'avatars' can help decide who should receive radiotherapy treatment
To date, there is no method for clearly determining whether radiotherapy will be an effective treatment for individual cancer patients.

Special cells contribute to regenerate the heart in Zebrafish
It is already known that zebrafish can flexibly regenerate their hearts after injury.

Read More: Zebrafish News and Zebrafish Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.