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Toolkit to Modify Zebrafish Genome and Make Them Research-Ready

Sep 24, 2012 08:17 AM EDT

Researchers have developed a highly-efficient toolkit to modify of zebrafish in order to use it for research purposes without any hindrance.

Zebrafish are highly used as a model for research purposes so as to study the evolution, structure and function of living organisms, and also to study human diseases using genetic and molecular tools.

They are genetically similar to humans and are good models for human biology and disease.

A team of international scientists and researchers from Mayo Clinic have created a improved variant of a genetic engineering toolkit known as transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), a most active and efficient kit that can be used to make small changes to the genetic sequences in the zebrafish genome at predefined locations.

"By using genetic engineering tools called TALENs and synthetic DNA to make defined changes in the genomes of our fish, we are able to make small changes (just a few nucleotides) as well as add a specific sequence for biological gene switch applications," Stephen Ekker, senior author and head of Mayo's zebrafish core facility, said in a news release from the clinic.

 "This is the first time we've been able to make custom changes to the zebrafish genome," he said.

While the inability to modify the zebrafish genome had prevented using the species in some of the research work, the new toolkit gives way to perform new experiments such as small point mutations to use it as a model for human disease, to design targeted conditional alleles so as to create different versions of the same gene and also to develop structure/function experiments using an animal model system, the researchers explained.

The new toolkit is said to have consequences on other research models such as rats, mice and worms. This approach could also be possibly applied in stem cell research.

"This has important implications for the growing TALEN field, whether used in fish or any other cells. We used this higher activity for genome editing applications. We also used it to conduct a series of somatic gene function assessments, opening the door to an array of non-germline experiments in zebrafish," Ekker said.

The findings of the study are published in the journal Nature.

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