Fri, Jan 16, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Scientists engineer weird new fish

PER ACCIDENT An Academia Sinica researcher and his team inadvertently created the luminescent conjoined fish while studying the effects of muscular dystrophy


The strange fish created in an Academia Sinica lab


In a world first, scientists at the Academia Sinica inadvertently developed a genetically engineered two-headed fluorescent zebrafish with two hearts.

Researchers conducting the research project said that the existence of such a creature had never been documented anywhere else on Earth.

Huang Chang-jen (黃銓珍), an associate research fellow at the Academia Sinica's Institute of Biological Chemistry, last week put a certain gene into 200 zebrafish embryos at one-cell stage through a microinjection procedure. One of them unexpectedly developed 24 hours later into the two-headed fish, which has two hearts.

As of yesterday, the weird, green fluorescent fish has been alive for eight days. Its has grown to 3mm from its original 2mm.

"You can say they are actually a big zebrafish and a small one sharing a body," Huang told the Taipei Times.

After checking related academic papers, Huang said that he found no documentation that such a creature had ever existed before.

Huang has used fluorescent zebrafish as a model organism for the study of functional genomics for years. To study the development of muscular dystrophy, Huang injected a gene causing the death of muscle cells into more than 200 zebrafish embryos. The research results would be used to develop drugs to cure the disease.

The rare two-headed fish inspired Huang to start studying the mechanisms causing conjoined creatures.

Again, the results of his research would be used to develop drugs to counter the development of conjoined babies. There are three to four conjoined births per 100,000 in Taiwan which, according to Huang, is a much higher rate than in most other countries. In some countries, Huang said, there is only one conjoined birth in more than 200,000.

Basically, the gene injected into the zebrafish causes the death of muscle cells and affects the early development of embryos. Huang declined to reveal details about the gene he used.

"Scientifically speaking, we still have a long way to go because we have not yet created a second two-headed conjoined zebrafish," Huang said.

Huang and his team repeated the experiment on Wednesday by injecting the same gene into more than 100 embryos, but only found a few abnormal creatures which were not conjoined.

According to Huang's pet-fish sources, a two-headed red dragon fish has been seen before but never a two-headed conjoined zebrafish.

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