Len Zon has a great secret, but I couldn’t help but focus on the zebrafish he uses in his research. The colored zebrafish reminded of something I ran across while researching my fourth-grade-level book about genes—the GloFish®.
The transgenic zebrafish with its glowing colors have been genetically modified from a normal zebrafish—that is, a gene for fluorescence from a sea anemone or a jellyfish My goodness, you’re glowing! (Courtesy Glofish.com) has been inserted into a zebrafish egg. The genes become part of the genetic makeup of the developing fish and as an adult, the colored zebrafish passes the modified gene to its offspring, who also are that color and continue passing the gene to their offspring. These fascinating fish are available from science suppliers and some retailers for classroom study or to keep as pets. And here’s the link to the GloFish site.
Originally the fluorescent zebrafish were developed to study pollutants in water. Scientists hoped to find a genetic switch that would turn on in the presence of specific toxins in water. This switch, they hoped, would make the fish fluoresce in their genetically modified colors. A non-fluorescing fish would mean the toxin or pollutant was not present in the water. This research was interesting enough, but clearly Len has taken the zebrafish to new heights in his own work.
Genetically modifying animals lets researchers like Len provide important information about subjects relating to human health and safety. Who knew that something so small could bring about such a wealth of knowledge and might one day lead to a cure for cancer?