By Kandice Fero, PhD
On March 10, 2011, Hiba Cordore (from Harold Burgess's lab) was the proud recipient of a new clutch of healthy zebrafish embryos, born in the expansive new Shared Zebrafish Facility in building 6. This is the first successful mating in the new facility, which was completed last fall, and signifies the end of a long, and at times arduous, process.
The relative novelty of the zebrafish as a model organism is reflected in the fact that few places in the country are equipped with the space and resources needed to utilize one of the model's most valuable features: its amenability for large-scale genetic screens. Dr. Igor Dawid, whose lab was the first to begin zebrafish research at the NIH, initially constructed a small holding system in Building 6B, which has since been converted into the fish quarantine room.
Upon the arrival of investigators Dr. Ajay Chitnis and current PGD Director Dr. Brant Weinstein to the NIH's burgeoning zebrafish program in 1997, a larger facility in 6B was opened for use. Weinstein and Dawid both described how capacity was rapidly exceeded after only a few years of activity and a larger facility was required to support ongoing research. Additional space was allotted in building 14G to temporarily house fish while over the next 10 years, through the collective work of many individuals at the NICHD, NHGRI, and the Office of Research Facilities, and through various logistical hurdles, the Shared Zebrafish Facility was constructed.
Building a bigger holding facility presents challenges, but it also presents opportunities to improve rearing and facilitate research. "The scope of this project has changed system design...large labs like this drive innovation," said Mark Rath (Aquatics Assistant Project Manager). Rath emphasized the importance of standardization in husbandry practices as more labs adopt the zebrafish model.
The new facility will house the NIH zebrafish community under one roof; four independently functioning systems, each dedicated to a given institute, simultaneously segregate and homogenize rearing of zebrafish stock populations. Tanks designed specifically for the facility are structured such that they are self-cleaning, and ambient lighting more closely mimics naturalistic conditions by gradually changing in intensity at day/night transitions.
The incorporation of two procedure rooms each for NICHD and NHGRI, as well as spaces for imaging and mutagenesis, serve to consolidate operations. NICHD procedure rooms currently feature several injection apparatuses and Mass Embryo Production Systems (MEPS), which are able to produce thousands of embryos per day through controlled mass mating. This all translates to an easier life for researchers and more stable and standardized rearing conditions for the fish.
One additional resource for postdocs in particular is the opportunity to learn what is needed when going on to start up labs where there may not be a centralized fish facility. Husbandry and project staff including Rath and Doreen Bartlett (Lab Animal and Fisheries Facilities Manager), who is largely responsible for the design and logistical concerns for the new facility, are both available to answer any questions that postdocs may have.