The tough get glowing

Genetically engineered zebra fish may be used to detect pollutants

source: Kristin Ohlson
New Scientist January 12 2002
starts p37, 2 pages long

Zebra fish have been genetically engineered to glow when pollutant levels are high. The fish were developed by University of Cincinnati’s Daniel Nebert, an environmental geneticist, and Michael Carvan, specialist in aquatic toxicology from the Great Lakes Water Institute of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The research has involved using both a gene that responds to dioxins and PCBs, and one that is involved in the production of luminescent chemicals used by fireflies. Fish tend to accumulate toxins in their bodies, and react quickly to rises in pollutant levels, though a luminometer has to be used to measure the glow, since humans cannot see it unaided. The fish provide a more sensitive way to detect pollution levels than most testing systems, except those that are extremely expensive.

There are important applications for this work, such as detecting pollutants in water supplying Clermont County from Lake Harsha, Ohio. This is a concern due to the location of a dump of hazardous waste only 8 km from the lake. A pilot study has already tested fish at a monitoring station for water quality for Clermont County, and eight out of the ten fish survived, though zebra fish are semi-tropical. The researchers have been unable to find enough funding to progress to building up stable zebra fish lines, despite the importance of their research.