teaching zebrafish

Paul Z. Myers myers at astro.ocis.temple.edu
Sun Oct 16 14:11:49 EST 1994

In article <37rbsr$f88 at mserv1.dl.ac.uk> , VOGEL at ubaclu.unibas.ch writes:
>as more and more people start working with zebrafish, more and more
>will be confronted with the situation to having to give lab courses for
>undergraduates using the fish. The immediate question is: "What can you
>do in a course that is not too easy (=boring) nor too difficult
>(=frustrating) ?" In our group, we were in that situation this summer,
>everything turned out pretty much, well - o.k.. Since it could be better,
>and I feel everyone would appreciate some ideas on that topic, I suggest
>that you mail your experiences to me, I collect them and post them
>collectively for everyone as soon as I have collected a substantial
>Your mail should contain the following information:
>- age (academic) and number of students, duration of the course, number
>teaching assistants; number of times this course has been given.
>- experiments (short description), did they work?
>- amount of preparation time needed
>- additional teaching materials developed? (lectures, videos,
>- anything else you find important

This term I'm teaching a course in advanced microscopy for undergrads
(which means "advanced" is closer to "intermediate"), and in several of
our labs I've used zebrafish as preps. Of course, in this course the fish
the central figure in the experiment, it's the microscope, so actually
about any small transparent embryo would have done the job...zebrafish
happen to be about the most convenient small transparent embryo you
can come up with.

Two labs come to mind that really got the students attention:

1. A comparison of simple brightfield, phase contrast, and DIC. In this
we just set up the scopes for a couple of different methods of imaging, 
grabbed images with a PowerMac+video digitizer, and did some comparisons
of pixel slices and histograms. The zebrafish makes for a beautiful live
(especially in DIC),  and the students were really impressed with being
able to see blood cells, muscle fibers, all that kind of pretty stuff.

Very little preparation was required -- I just grabbed a beaker of 2-day
old embryos from my incubator and a couple of depression slides. I also
put together some representative histogram images.

2. A demonstration of time-lapse microscopy. The lab is early in the
so it was just right for bringing in some freshly fertilized eggs and
making a 
quick movie of cleavages. The division time of 20 minutes is just right
illustrating slow changes but still giving us several dramatic events
over the 
course of an hour.

Again, almost no preparation was required. I was a bit worried that the
wouldn't lay on schedule, so I did set up several movies ahead of time so
could at least see something canned if the fish failed to cooperate.

I'm planning another lab with zebrafish in early cleavage for later this
We're going to use ratiometric imaging to look at calcium changes during
cleavage...I hope. I'm still trying to make the technique reliable, and
it's going
to require some preparation in advance. I'll have to get a dozen embryos
with fura about an hour before the lab, which is going to require an
level of efficiency on my part.

I don't know how much use this will be to you. For the most part, these
demonstrations, not real experiments.  Still, the students have been
enthusiastic about all the labs with live zebrafish, especially in
comparison with
all these other labs where we're looking at really boring things like
gratings and
prepared slides.

Paul Z. Myers                    myers at astro.ocis.temple.edu
Dept. of Biology                              (215) 204-8848
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA 19122

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