A little history of zebrafish research

I was amused to see this review of the history of zebrafish publications. It describes some of the trends in the research (read: lots of developmental biology), and plots the number of papers published. I started working with zebrafish in 1979, so I’ve marked where I began.


You know, when I started out as a grad student in this field, the literature search was pretty easy. Almost all the people who had published on this model system were right there in this one collection of labs at the University of Oregon, with a few other former students scattered elsewhere, so I could just turn to all of the primary authors and ask them directly about anything. There were a few older papers, but as I recall, almost all of them had to do with zebrafish as guinea pigs in environmental toxicology studies.

It’s a little bit different now.

(Of course, that didn’t mean I didn’t have lots to read — the questions were all focused on neurobiological and developmental topics in other organisms. Even now you shouldn’t center your reading on just one experimental animal!)


  1. doublereed says

    So what you’re saying is that zebrafish research wasn’t cool until you were doing it.

  2. says

    Not so distracting as the parties. This was Oregon, you know…strange weedy plants and exotic ‘shrooms were common place. You don’t want to know what was in the brownies.

  3. says

    We didn’t need the high potency, because we were all pretty mellow already.

    That song is about Portland. That’s a rather tense, ferocious urban environment compared to Eugene, so don’t talk to me about those wild night owls up there.

  4. Anthony K says

    Mellow. Yes, that sounds more like the Oregon I’ve traveled through. Sometimes I think Jello Biafra may have exaggerated some of his stories for effect.

  5. Trebuchet says

    Cool! I well remember zebrafish among the guppies in my early-teen year aquariums.

    How about an update on the zebrafish facility for the lab, by the way?

  6. lymie says

    Who was the guy who did the fish behavioral research with the fish with the red spot in the aquarium by the window, was it Tinbergen? – the mail truck driving by (UK mail trucks are red) made the males alert? I feel a bit this way in my office, every time the commuter bus passes – the question in my head is, “Where do I need to go?” Pretty funny.

  7. lochaber says

    second here for updates/pics about the inner workings of your lab.

    (or, well, for any lab for that matter…)

    I (sometimes) keep fish/aquatic critters as a hobby, and I’m heavily inclined towards DIY stuff, so I’m almost always curious to see what setups other people are using.

    And, is it just me, or did the publication rate increase exponentially once PZ’s evilutionist claws dug in?

  8. lpetrich says

    I don’t like that linear plot It ought to have been a logarithmic plot. I transcribed the numbers into a spreadsheet and plotted them. Making papers per year logarithmic gave an approximate straight line: the number of zebrafish-research papers been growing exponentially with time. I fit the numbers to an exponential curve, and I found that the number of papers per year doubles every 5 years.

  9. scourge99 says

    Can someone enlighten me about why there is so much research on zebra fish as opposed to other organisms or topics? What am i missing?

  10. David Marjanović says

    What am i missing?

    The fact that zebrafish are a model organism for development biology (including development genetics). If you want to research vertebrate development, you’ll almost certainly turn to house mice, chickens, a particular species of clawed “toad” approximately never called the common platanna, or zebrafish.

  11. David Marjanović says

    …The reasons for this are historical inertia as well as the ease and speed at which these species can be bred.