Fish Representatives

February 16, 2013 By arne hendriks 1

In most genetics research, Homo sapiens is represented by small fish like Danio rerio (zebrafish)  and Oryzias latipes (Japanese rice fish). Both are important model organisms, representing man in developmental genetics, neurophysiology and biomedicine. When we tinker with genes what happens to the fish is most likely to happen to us as well. If the fish remains small because of a certain genetic alteration there’s a good chance the same alteration will affect human growth as well. But just as important as the genetics are the epigenetics: all mechanisms that cause heritable changes through gene expression without affecting an actual change  in the DNA itself. In other words, how are we affected by the environments we grow up in.

Fish are perfect in showing us how environment influences growth. Fish in a small aquarium stay smaller. Temperature is also an issue. Bergmann’s rule states that species tend to shrink when temperatures rise. Global warming already has this effect on fish species around the world. Light is also an important factor. Red light stuns growth in most fish species, which is interesting because Dr. Julian O’Dea thinks that perhaps the reason that Pygmy are much smaller than average human height is because they live in low light situations in the deep forest.

During EN VIE/ ALIVE (an exhibition curated by Carole Collet that examines the impact of new biological tools on design and fabrication for the future) The Incredible Shrinking Man opened a zebrafish lab to research how specific environmental conditions such as temperature, light, living space and sound, influence growth. Perhaps our fish representatives will show us how to live smaller lives in the future.