July 12, 2011

Zinc in Zebrafish: A Way to Understand Disease?

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Scientists have found a new way to detect zinc in zebrafish. They say this discovery could help them better understand diseases like type 2 diabetes, prostate cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

Zinc is found throughout the body and is involved in metabolic pathways that affect the function of the immune system and brain, reproduction, and sexual development. It is also known to be a key element in treating a range of diseases. Researchers are unclear whether zinc causes disease or prevents disease development and progression.

In a new study, scientists developed a sensor for zinc to be used in studies on zebrafish. Because of their fast development, zebrafish can be grown outside of their mother's body. Their embryos are also transparent, which allows for clear observation of organs.

The team's sensor switched on fluorescence in the fish when zinc was present. They used a technique called "click" chemistry, which is designed to generate substances quickly and reliably by joining small units together. The sensor proved to be particularly sensitive in identifying zinc rather than other anions such as iron or copper.

"Our probe is able to visualize zinc in various parts of the fish embryos, including the pancreas, and we are excited that we can develop the technology further to help understand the role of zinc in the development of important disease like type 2 diabetes," Professor Mike Watkinson, from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, was quoted as saying.

SOURCE: The Sixth International Symposium on Macrocyclic and Supramolecular Chemistry in Brighton