UGA Research Magazine

Zebrafish Lab Spawns New Research

by Laurie Anderson



The University of Georgia has a large new laboratory in the Paul D. Coverdell Building specifically designed for aquatic research with tiny zebrafish. The new facility, which houses 1,200 tanks containing up to 30 fish each, can hold up to 1,000 different fish stocks. Each stock represents a genetically distinct strain, explained cellular biologist Scott Dougan, who runs the lab.

Dougan crossbreeds thousands of fish over several generations, looking for mutations that affect the way body structures such as the muscles, skeleton and skin differentiate at various stages. In the transparent embryos, any changes are quickly apparent.

“We can see which tissues are absent in all our mutants simply by looking at the fish,” noted Dougan. “In some cases we can see the defects quite early.” Because zebrafish genes have functions similar to those of humans, identifying how those genes affect cells may someday help prevent birth defects and treat cancer and other diseases.

In January, Dougan received a $700,000 grant from the American Cancer Society to study the genetic control of the earliest stages of development using the zebrafish as a model. “Our long-term goal is to understand how cells in vertebrate embryos communicate and interpret information,” he said. “Our hope is that this will permit the development of new, targeted cancer therapies and diagnostic tests.”

For now, Dougan revels in the additional freedom that the new lab provides. Formerly squeezed into a small, poorly configured room where much of the maintenance work was done manually, the new facility features an automated system that adjusts pH and water levels.

Tanks are set up in racks for easy removal, micro injectors are nearby to insert DNA and/or RNA into the embryo cells for developmental study, and water conditions can be monitored from remote locations via the Internet. The monitoring system even emails researchers if the proper environment isn’t maintained.

For more information contact Scott Dougan at


Research Communications, Office of the VP for Research, UGA
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