Scientists use numerous different animal models to better understand human development and disease. Although some models do not appear similar to humans, they can still lead to exciting insights into human biology. On October 30 at the Fall 2019 BioSci Dean’s Distinguished Lecture, Developmental and Cell Biology Chair Thomas Schilling discussed his research using a small freshwater fish to model human cranial development.
Professor Schilling, an expert developmental biologist, concentrates on the genetic analysis of cranial skeletal and muscle development. His work with zebrafish has led to technological advances that other developmental biologists now use to manipulate skeletal and muscle development in their research.
In his lecture, Professor Schilling gave several reasons why zebrafish are a good model organism: their small size, low cost and curiously – their genetic similarity to humans. The zebrafish also have translucent skin at early ages, which makes them excellent models for imaging studies that track cell development and location.
He also discussed his lab’s work investigating how to build a face, focusing on fish bone and tendon development. For example, he presented research on the peptide Endothelin 1, whose signaling pathway plays a role in craniofacial development. Professor Schilling found that a loss in Endothelin 1 signaling led to disrupted jaw bone formation in the zebrafish. Interestingly, when he and his team injected Endothelin 1 peptide back into the fish, the fish developed normal jaw bones. His work holds promise for use of Endothelin 1 to help with certain human craniofacial development disorders. Utilizing the work with Endohelin 1 and more, Professor Schilling provided prime examples of how a simple fish can offer great insights into human development. He concluded by acknowledging his department, BioSci, and the numerous student researchers and senior scientists who contributed to his research over the years.