Major boost for European zebrafish research

February 09, 2004

The zebrafish, a popular aquarium fish, is ideally suited to study the fundamental processes underlying embryonic development and the genetic basis of diseases. In recent years it has become one of the favourite model organisms of academic scientists and the biotech industry, and deciphering of its genome is already underway.

In the face of strong transatlantic competition, the European Commission has now decided to boost European zebrafish research by making it a flagship project of its 6th Framework Programme. The Integrated Project, ZF-MODELS, will bring together 15 leading European research institutions (see list below). Over five years, these institutions will receive a total budget of 12,400,000 Euros. 12,000,000 Euros will be contributed by the European Commission and 400,000 Euros by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

The partners of the ZF-MODELS project will join forces to work towards a common goal: to gain new insights into the genetic control of fundamental biological processes relevant for human disease, such as development, physiology and behaviour. The results, they hope, will form a basis for the development of new or improved therapies. Targets of the project will be common diseases such as cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, muscular dystrophies, eye diseases and behavioural disorders, as well as resistance to infections and wound healing.

To reach its aims the project will use advanced scientific tools that have only recently been developed by zebrafish researchers, and apply them on a massive scale and in an integrated fashion. Highlights of the project will include:

Mutagenesis projects that will bring together scientists from all over Europe to examine zebrafish carrying genetic mutations. In addition to the mutants with defects in early development identified in previous projects, a focus will be on mutations that affect the adult fish, since these are of special interest for human diseases.

The analysis of the activity (expression) of tens of thousands of zebrafish genes on gene chips (microarrays) that will help to understand how they regulate each other's activity during normal development, and how this regulation is disturbed in mutants.

The generation of thousands of fish expressing Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) controlled by the enhancer sequences of specific genes. Under UV light, tissues of these fish will light up indicating wherever the respective gene is active.

A facility to knock-out genes that will provide European researchers with zebrafish mutants for specific genes on demand. This will let them study genes of particular interest for which no mutant is found in the mutagenesis projects. The knock-out fish will be suitable as models for human diseases and the development of therapies.

A European zebrafish database that will integrate all project data in a three-dimensional anatomical atlas of zebrafish development, linked with the relevant gene activities. This database will be accessible through the project web site ( and will be open to scientists and the interested public world-wide.
The funding of the ZF-MODELS project by the European Commission comes at a crucial stage. The integration of the major European zebrafish labs in this project will further increase the competitive position of European zebrafish research. The substantial funding granted to the project will allow the creation and integration of the necessary critical mass of multidisciplinary expertise and excellence needed to tackle the ambitious objectives of the project.

The project is coordinated by the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany. Dr. Robert Geisler is the project's Scientific Coordinator, Dr. Ralf Dahm is the Project Manager and Nobel Laureate Prof. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard chairs the project's Executive Committee.

The project officially began on January, 1st 2004 and will be kicked-off with a meeting of the partners to be held at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen from February, 14th-15th 2004.

Partners of ZF-MODELS Integrated Project:

Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science Munich, Germany

Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology
Tübingen, Germany
Contact: Dr. Robert Geisler (Scientific Coordinator)
Phone: 49-7071-601443

Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics
Dresden, Germany
Contact: Prof. Michael Brand
Phone: 49-351-2102514

Max Planck Institute for Immune Biology
Freiburg, Germany
Contact: Dr. Matthias Hammerschmidt
Phone: 49-761-5108495

Genome Research Ltd
The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
Cambridge, United Kingdom
Contact: Dr. Jane Rogers
Phone: 44-1223-494938

Institute de Génétique et de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire
Illkirch, France
Contact: Dr. Christine Thisse
Phone: 33-388-653360

Hubrecht Laboratory, Netherlands Institute for Developmental Biology
Utrecht, The Netherlands
Contact: Prof. Ronald Plasterk
Phone: 31-30-2121963

The University of Sheffield
Sheffield, United Kingdom
Contact: Prof. Philip Ingham
Phone: 44-114-2222710

University College London
London, United Kingdom
Contact: Prof. Stephen Wilson
Phone: 44-20-76793348

Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale
Paris, France
Contact: Dr. Frédéric Rosa
Phone: 33-1-44323978

Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
Freiburg, Germany
Contact: Prof. Wolfgang Driever
Phone: 49-761-2032587

University of Bergen
Bergen, Norway
Contact: Dr. Thomas Becker
Phone: 47-5-5584338

Universita' degli Studi di Padova
Padova, Italy
Contact: Prof. Francesco Argenton
Phone: 39-49-8276229

GSF-National Research Center for Environment and Health
Neuherberg, Germany
Contact: Dr. Laure Bally-Cuif
Phone: 49-89-31873562

Institut Pasteur
Paris, France
Contact: Dr. Philippe Herbomel
Phone: 33-1-44389529

Leiden University
Leiden, The Netherlands
Contact: Prof. Herman Spaink
Phone: 31-71-5275055

ETH - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
Contact: Prof. Stephan Neuhauss
Phone: 41-1-6353288

Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe GmbH
Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen, Germany
Contact: Prof. Uwe Strähle
Phone: 49-7247-823291


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