Genetic modification has brought us some strange creatures, but this technicolored zebrafish might be the funkiest yet.
The technique used to create the motley-colored fish has been dubbed "Skinbow," which essentially involves embedding fluorescent markers in the DNA code of the animal's skin cells. Aside from jazzing up the lab aquarium, the experiment has a more serious medical purpose: helping scientists study tissue regeneration, according to Gizmodo.
If you're wondering what having trippy, rainbow-colored skin has to do with tissue regeneration, it's really just a clever way to help scientists visualize what's happening on the cellular level.
“We’re interested in many types of regeneration,” explained Ken Poss, a professor of cell biology at Duke University. “A barrier has been that we haven’t been able to visualize what the cells are doing.”
Each of the color markers can be expressed in three different ways, resulting in red, green or blue fluorescence. When the technique is applied to, say, 100 copies of the gene per cell, that means the cell can potentially take on thousands of different colors, thus resulting in a truly psychedelic fish.
This ties into tissue regeneration because as new cells grow to replace those that have been scraped off the skin of the animal, the unique color patterns generated can be linked to the growth of specific cells. It basically allows researchers to observe tissue regeneration on the cellular level in a more detailed and vibrant way than ever possible before.
Scientists picked zebrafish for the study because these animals have been known to patch an injured heart or spinal cord, and even regrow entire limbs, so they make for unique subjects on the topic. But the technique can potentially be applied to other organisms too, humans included. (Imagine heading out to the nightclub with skin like this fish!)
Of course, it's unlikely that a whole human ever gets the Skinbow treatment; mere tissue samples will suffice. Scientists can then use the technique to better visualize how human tissue responds to things like a new cancer drug, for instance.
“In theory, this general platform is applicable to other tissues and other species,” said Poss. “It involves getting the right set of genetic tools, and developing a way to image that tissue continually over time.”