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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 12/10/99
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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Zebrafish Glow When Toxins Are Detected

Cincinnati—Transgenic zebrafish have had foreign genes inserted into their DNA, so that they light up like fireflies when they encounter certain environmental toxins, may soon be used to protect public waters in the Greater Cincinnati area. Daniel Nebert, MD, professor of environmental genetics at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine Center for Environmental Genetics says, "Basically, when exposed to water polluted with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the fish become luminescent (due to a firefly gene) or fluoresce green (due to a jelly fish gene)." PCBs are known to cause cancer in humans.

Michael Carvan III, PhD, UC research assistant professor of environmental health, is conducting this research project with the help of Clermont County officials. Carvan is applying for funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for this research. If successful, the fish could serve as highly sensitive monitors for Lake Harsha in East Fork State Park on the eastern edge of Cincinnati. The ordinary zebra danio fish bought from pet stores will be kept in tanks filled with Lake Harsha water that is heated to 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit to determine if the fish can survive in the water. The light-producing transgenic fish will be used if the ordinary pet store fish survive.

Although the level of pollutants at East Fork Park is not harmful to humans at this time, a hazardous waste dump is upstream from Pleasant Run and has PCBs stored underground in lined and unlined pits. People are concerned about the possibility of leaks at older hazardous dumpsites that contain cancer-causing chemicals.

"If successful, these transgenic zebrafish could provide us with a highly sensitive monitoring system," says Carvan. "The transgenic fish are 10,000 times more sensitive than current water testing systems and can detect very low concentrations of PCBs in the lake," says Nebert. "The fish are also very cheap to maintain," says Paul Russell, PhD, a water-quality consultant for Clermont County.

Photo editors: There will be a slide show presentation and zebrafish demonstration given by Michael Carvan, PhD, and Daniel Nebert, MD, in room 302 at Wyoming Middle School from 2:30 to 3:00 p.m. on December 14. The presentation/demonstration will be given by Michael Carvan, PhD, Daniel Nebert, MD, and Paul Russell, PhD, in the small conference room at Clermont College at 9:30 a.m. on December 15.

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