News Feature | December 2, 2014

Zebrafish: The Next Great Water Testing Instrument?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

zebrafish

Scientists in China are experimenting with how zebrafish can be used to test water quality.

"A fish with a genetic code similar to humans' may soon be used by the government to monitor water quality. The tiny zebrafish, native to the River Ganges in eastern India, is prized by biologists because more than 90 per cent of its genetic code is identical to ours," the South China Morning Post reported.

Zebrafish have already been used to test new drugs. And now, China could become the first country to use it as a water pollution tool, the report said.

"The method is straightforward. About 20 healthy zebrafish embryos are placed in various samples of water and observed with a microscope in a laboratory-controlled environment for between four and seven days," the report said.

The water is considered not safe for drinking if any of the embryos die or mutate, the report said.

Professor Chen Feng, a biological researcher, said the Ministry of Environmental Protection has spent years writing "a national standard water quality test using zebrafish," according to the report. "Today most technical issues have been solved. I think the standard will be launched soon," she said.

China has an uphill battle to fight against water pollution.

"Sixty percent of China’s groundwater, monitored at 4,778 sites across the country, is either 'bad' or 'very bad,' according to a survey by the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Meanwhile, more than half, or 17 of China’s 31 major freshwater lakes, are polluted, at least slightly or moderately," Bloomberg Businessweek reported, citing an article by Xinhua.

While the nation struggles against contamination, water scarcity is another pressing problem.

"The report said that 300 of China’s 657 major cities also face water shortages, according to the standard set by the United Nations. A particularly severe problem is the dearth of water in the North China region, including the cities of Beijing and Tianjin and the surrounding province of Hebei," Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

Image credit: "Zebrafish (Danio rerio)," Tohru Murakami © 2014, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license:https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/