A new breed of green-glowing zebrafish makes it easy to see how everyday environmental chemicals act and how they affect the body and health. Researchers from the University of Exeter and University College London (UCL) creating a new type of transgenic zebrafish, which when exposed to environmental oestrogens, or hormone disrupting chemicals, is able to show where these chemicals invade the body through the production of green fluorescent signals. The fascinating results were published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The team of scientists placed a genetic system into their zebrafish that’s able to amplify the response to oestrogens, which in turn produces a visible fluorescent green signal. Researchers exposed the fish to various chemicals known to affect oestrogen hormone signaling including Bisphenol A (BPA), ethinyloestradiol, used in the contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy treatments, and nonylphenol, used in paints and industrial detergents. Once exposed, the glowing fluorescent green signals can show us which parts of a fish body are responding to the hormone disrupting chemicals.

detergent bottles and sponges – Image from Shutterstock

This amazingly clever research allows scientists to observe the effects of chemical exposure on the fish, in real time, because you can actually watch as specific organs or areas of tissue begin to glow green, as those body areas respond to the chemicals. With the help of these glowing fish, researchers were able to pinpoint various specific body responses to chemicals. For example, as chemical exposure occurred, the liver of a fish would start to glow green. In the case of BPA the heart glowed green (which is pretty disturbing!). The researchers additionally witnessed tissue responses to chemicals that no one has seen before, including the skeletal muscle and eyes. Corresponding author Professor Charles Tyler of Biosciences at the University of Exeter said in a statement, “This zebrafish gives us a more comprehensive view than ever before of the potential effects of these hormone-disrupting chemicals on the body. By being able to localize precisely where different environmental oestrogens act in the body, we will be able to more effectively target health effects analyses for these chemicals of concern. While it is still early days, we are confident that our zebrafish model can help us better understand the way the human body responds to these pollutants.” Obviously, this research has positive implications for humans as it can better illuminate how chemicals may be affecting our bodies. I’d wager if humans glowed green in areas of the body affected by chemicals we’d be far less likely to stuff said chemicals into so many everyday products.

+ Biosensor Zebrafish Provide New Insights into Potential Health Effects of Environmental Estrogens

Lead image courtesy University of Exeter