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Scientists create fluorescent fish to help tackle pollution

The zebrafish glows when affected by certain chemicals Photo: ITV West Country

Scientists at Exeter University have invented a type of glow in the dark fish. They actually turn flourescent but only if water is polluted. The research could help ensure measures are taken to improve water quality in rivers and lakes and also play an important part in medical research as well.

Richard Lawrence tells us more.

Zebrafish are known for their stripes, but should there be something fishy in the water (so to speak), these particular fish will glow instead. They've had genetic material added to their eggs. The glowing ingredient came from jellyfish.

PhD student Dr Okhyun Lee discovered the fluorescent colour appeared in direct response to hormone-related chemicals in water so she put it to the test at points where treated water from sewage works is pumped back into rivers.

I hope we can use these fish to analyse the rivers or to screen many chemicals.

– Dr Okhyun Lee, PhD Student
The zebrafish in its original state Credit: ITV West Country

You could say the break-through is important as the discovery that lead to canaries being taken to coal mines to check for gas.

While testing water quality is a great use, the images also show which organs in the fish could be affected by the pollutants and therefore, humans too.

It enables us to better target where these chemicals are working in the body so we can get a better feel for what the potential health implications might be. Then start to understand how they might be causing the health effects. Because then we can think about developing engineering chemicals that don't induce those type of effects.

– Prof Charles Tyler, University of Exeter

More research is needed to see whether the zebrafish will respond to other chemicals in the same way. Who knows, we could have a lot to thank them for in the future.