Lab Fish


Researchers use a variety of model organisms to study human diseases – zebrafish is one of them. Zebrafish is a freshwater fish and it shares 70% of its genes with humans. SMARTAQUA will develop fish lines to study heart diseases, cancer and obesity.


Mice and rats still make up 95% of animals used in research. But zebrafish are becoming more and more popular as a research model for human disease. In the past 12 years, the use of zebrafish in research has boomed – its genome is fully sequenced and well annotated.

Originally, from the South-eastern Himalayan region of Asia they adapt well to aquariums. Comparing to mice they are small, do not need much space, and reproduce fast and in big numbers. A mouse might have a litter of 10 offspring that need three full weeks in the womb to develop.

In comparison, zebrafish can lay 100-500 eggs per week; embryos and larvae are transparent and develop fast – we can watch the body form. After fertilization, it only takes 45 minutes for the first cell division to occur, 36 hours for the eye to start forming and 5 days to have a fish swimming. Scientists can also observe the effect of adding or deleting genes at the one-cell stage and check its effect in the adult fish quickly.
Such characteristics are unique and unparalleled to all other animal model of human diseases.

SMARTAQUA will benefit from a new Zebrafish lab and gene editing technology to provide fully traceable pedigree lines that can be used by biomedical researchers in Wales.


But zebrafish are not the only aquatic animal of interest to science, the mangrove killifish – the most extreme fish on earth – have a huge potential too.

BBC Earth describes them best:

Killifish live fast, die young, have strange sex and even hunt on land

This is all true, but probably sex is the most important feature for research. The mangrove killifish, Kryptolebias marmoratus is hermaphrodite – have both male and female sex organs – other fish can do the same. But the mangrove killifish is the only known vertebrate hermaphrodite that can fertilise itself, producing genetically identical clones. 

SMARTAQUA will develop the research needed to introduce to the global market a novel, naturally inbred fish model – the mangrove killifish – with reduced genetic diversity which will be a suitable replacement for many of the medical research studies using zebrafish.

Developing a unique animal model with desirable biological characteristics has the potential to generate important investment opportunities in Wales among SMEs, as well as from larger pharmaceutical companies.

Find out more and join our network of eco-innovators in the non-food aquaculture industry



SMARTAQUA: aquaculture beyond food is supported by the Welsh Government and the European Regional Development Fund.

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