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The last several years have witnessed an explosion in our understanding of vertebrate development, largely based on work from a few model genetic organisms. The embryonic zebrafish is one of these new models, and many research grants are funded by NIH and NIEHS to utilize this model. Studies of the embryology and genetics of zebrafish and the recent identification of over 4,000 genetic mutations have lead to this dramatic increase in the number of laboratories (now about 250) using zebrafish to study the basic mechanisms of vertebrate development. In support of these endeavors, the Zebrafish International Resource Center (ZIRC) was established at the University of Oregon in 1998.
Although zebrafish have become an extremely important research model, relatively little is known about the diseases that affect this species when held in captivity. Indeed, severe health problems in zebrafish research colonies could seriously jeopardize many millions of dollars in research, and some researcher’s facilities have experienced devastating, acute mortalities in their zebrafish colonies. Moreover, persistent, but less severe, infections have plagued several facilities. As with other laboratory animals used in research, it is imperative to conduct studies with disease-free, healthy zebrafish (Kent 2009). Unlike rodent models, where there are many certified specific pathogen free (SPF) strains, we have just begun to develop SPF stocks of zebrafish. To aid in this endeavor, we are developing sensitive diagnostic tests for the serious pathogens.
The purpose of this manual is to provide an overview of the common diseases of zebrafish as they occur in research facilities. For each disease, we provide information on the characteristics (e.g., pathological presentation), methods for diagnosis, and suggestions for control and treatment. In addition, methods for conducting disease investigations and for collecting and shipping samples to a diagnostic laboratory for further analysis are included. For additional information about zebrafish disease research and our diagnostic service.