Zebrafish to be key part of new biology research

Alanna Navin

Georgia Southern University is introducing a new mode of study in which researchers will study zebrafish in order to learn more about the human body.

The zebrafish are very close to humans genetically and are see-through, which gives researchers the chance to see the results as they happen, Dr. Vinoth Sittaramane, a new biology professor, said.

Sittaramane brought the world of research using zebrafish to GSU.

Researchers will be looking to the zebrafish to teach them about nanotechnology as a means of cancer therapy, the embryotic nervous system and the development of embryotic blood vessels, Sittaramane said.

“We are taking human cancer, and we will put it in the zebrafish,” Sittaramane said.

The nanotechnology that will be used will be extremely small rods made essentially out of carbon, Dr. Karin Scarpinato, associate dean of faculty and undergraduate research programs, said.

The rods will be treated with an antibody that is specific to cancer cells. The tube will be inserted into the tumor and will bind specifically to the cancer cell instead of normal cells.

The cell will then be treated with controlled microwaves, which will heat and kill the cell, Scarpinato said.

“Hopefully the tumors cells will be killed,” Scarpinato said.

The major driving force behind the second experiment of observing brain development is to discover some of the reasons as to why autism is a disease in humans, Sittaramane said.

“We are focused on how the nervous system is developed in the embryo,” Sittaramane said.

Researchers will also observe how blood vessels are developed in the brain while in the embryotic stage.

The purpose for this experiment is the occurrence of strokes in humans, and observing the growth of blood vessels can show the specifics of the condition, Sittaramane said.

The zebrafish will call a sophisticated tank in the Biology Building “home.”

The system used for keeping the fish is called a zebrafish aquatic system. It is a completely new system that has been on campus for only three weeks, Sittaramane said.

“This is very sophisticated because the water circulates automatically,” Sittaramane said.

The system uses regular tap water that flows from a pipe to various filtrations systems that sterilizes the water and is treated with certain solutions in order to make the perfect water for housing zebrafish in a controlled environment. All of this is done by the aquatic system automatically.

“We want to do research in the perfect environment,” Sittaramane said.

If there is anything off-balance in the system, there are sensors that alert Sittaramane immediately though email and text message.

“It’s constantly making sure that the fish are kept in comfortable conditions,” Sittaramane said.

Zebrafish are great mediums for research because they are very close to humans in a genetic perspective, Sittaramane said.

“That is the power of zebrafish; you can do everything in a live fish,” Sittaramane said.

Before the advent of research with zebrafish, mice were the preferred mode for information.

”You need a good number of mice, which can be expensive and not very cost-effective, and a number of studies have showed that mice are not the best model to model humans,” Scarpinato said.

Zebrafish can also be genetically altered for specific experiments, Sittaramane said.

The projects will not only be done in the department of biology, but the department of chemistry will also be taking part, Scarpinato said.

There will also be monthly meeting with the departments taking part in the research to discuss the findings of the study.

“The fact that everyone is able to collaborate on one project is really cool,” Jihan Padgett, senior biology major, said.

Padgett’s research focus is on the nanotechnology cell therapy.

“It’s good that we have it at GSU now. We can do a lot of collaboration and hopefully get far,” Sittaramane said.

Padgett said, “I hope that it does reach a really good endpoint and that everything turns out to be successful.