Zebrafish do not like stress
Zebrafish are the secret heroes of genetics. This humble fish serves as a model organism in numerous research laboratories all around the world. At Ghent University, researchers breed them in large numbers in a Memmert constant climate chamber with light that is optimally suited as a fish incubator. In this low-vibration and low-noise environment, the zebrafish can develop without stress.
Many diseases can be traced back to mutations of the genome. Therefore, the pharmaceutical industry is working hard on medication with direct effect on certain human genes. The precondition for this is the identification of the mutations in genetic research centres and the subsequent characterization of the mechanisms by which these gene mutations can cause diseases. Carmen Van Waeyenberghe, Memmert distributor in Belgium, visited Dr. Andy Willaert at the Center for Medical Genetics at Ghent University (CMGG) on behalf of AtmoSAFE and learned some interesting facts about the small zebrafish and its great mission as a model organism in genetics.
The zebrafish as a model organism
Due to their strong biological similarity to humans and due to its transparent embryos that develop outside the mother’s body, zebrafish have been used as model organisms for human developmental diseases for more than 20 years now. After the egg has been fertilised, it takes only 5 days for the zebrafish to develop from embryo to a fully grown fish. Another advantage for the researchers is that the females are very fertile. On average, they lay 200 to 300 eggs per week, so that research results can also be statistically verified at minimal cost.
Peace and quiet in the constant climate chamber
To develop perfectly, zebrafish embryos need as much peace and quiet as possible during growth. Andy Willaert's search for a fish incubator with light but without a noisy and vibrating compressor had been difficult in the beginning. Eventually, Carmen Van Waeyenberghe of Voor’t Labo recommended the Memmert constant climate chamber HPP 108 with illumination unit, because its interior is heated and cooled precisely by Peltier technology without disturbing vibrations and noise. Additionally, the Memmert technical service further reduced the performance of the air turbine to eliminate this source of noise as far as possible. Thanks to the constant climate chamber’s LED lighting active from 8 am to 10 pm, zebrafish embryos can grow in a nature-like environment at a constant temperature of 28 °C.
Genetics as a source of inspiration for new medications
Based on zebrafish research, Andy Willaert  and his colleagues do research on genetic diseases of the cardiovascular system like the arterial tortuosity syndrome, a disease of the connective tissue mainly characterised by tortuosity and elongation of the arteries. It can lead to severe narrowing of the blood vessels, aneurysm formationand dissections. Apart from that, their research focuses on genetic dysfunctions in connection with the formation of bones and skin tissue.
AtmoSAFE would like to thank Dr. Andy Willaert, the Center for Medical Genetics at Ghent University (CMGG) and Carmen Van Waeyenberghe, Memmert distributor in Belgium, for the friendly support in writing this article.
Overview of focus topics
- Constant climate chamber
- Fish incubator
- Breeding of zebrafish
- Zebrafish embryos
- Vibration-free and low-noise
- Ghent University
Photo credits: Chen, Ho-Wen, supported by Lin, Li-Yih Lab, the Department of Life Science, National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan, ROC; Kris Jacobs, www.positief-online.be; Memmert
 List of publications by Andy Willaert, Ghent University