BAR PORT – While it is the elephants and other large animals that congregate in the waterholes of East Africa that attract the attention of safari enthusiasts, perhaps the most fascinating inhabitant of these ephemeral pools is be a little guppy-like fish called the African turquoise killifish (ATK).
With the aim of uniting the community of scientists working with an emerging model of ATK and fostering the development of tools and resources to work with it, the MDI Biological Laboratory sponsored a first International African Conference Turquoise Killifish in September which attracted around fifty scientists from countries such as Belgium, China, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.
Also known as the “instant fish” due to its short lifespan, ATK grows, reproduces and ages during the four to six month window of the rainy season, an adaptation to its extreme habitat which makes it more difficult to find. makes one of the shortest-lived vertebrates. in existence.
It is also a valuable model for studying the biology of aging. Although other animal models used in aging research (such as the fly and the worm) have short lifespans, they are not vertebrates. And mammalian models (such as mice or primates) live too long to get quick results.
ATK fills this gap by enabling rapid insight into the effectiveness of antiaging interventions while displaying traits relevant to human aging, including vertebrate-specific genes, tissues and organs and a complex immune system. ATK can also regenerate its tail fin and heart, which is a benefit for scientists studying the link between aging and regeneration, the research focus at MDI biological laboratory.
Although several ATK conferences were held in Europe, this was the first to take place in the Americas.
The ATK conference was a continuation of the Aging and Regeneration Conferences held at the lab in recent years which attracted pioneers in the use of ATK as a research model, many of whom also attended the ATK conference.
The interface between aging and regeneration is an area of ââincreased biomedical interest, Haller noted. While the goal of research in aging is to prevent or delay the onset of degenerative disease, the goal of research in regenerative medicine is to repair the damage that occurs. The lab’s new ATK colony, which was established last year, offers visiting professors and scientists the opportunity to study both in a single model.
Although research at the MDI Biological Laboratory focuses on the interface between aging and regeneration, the topic of the conference was broad, including presentations on behavior, development, ecology, evolution, habitat, rearing and reproduction of ATKs, as well as on studies in which it has been used as a model for age-related diseases and conditions such as neurodegenerative diseases.
âThe conference responded to a real thirst from the ATK research community, many of whom are new to this animal model,â said Aric Rogers, scientist from the MDI Biological Laboratory, who co-chaired the event with Chi-Kuo Hu de Stony Brook University in New York. âThe participants’ commitment to using ATK as a research tool and their eagerness to share their knowledge was remarkable. “
Although prized by aquarists since the 1970s, it was not until the 2000s that ATK gained the attention of scientists looking for a vertebrate model in which lifespan was naturally compressed rather than truncated by disease or predation. One benefit of ATK is that it shares many symptoms of aging with humans, including declining immune function and loss of muscle mass, and even memory loss.
A die first to use it as a template was conference participant Alessandro Cellerino, now from the Leibnitz Institute on Aging in Germany. Cellerino reportedly visited a fish farmer in Italy in the 2000s when he asked which species had the shortest lifespan. When the breeder pointed out the ATK with the comment “They don’t do this for more than three months”, Cellerino replied “OK, I want them.”
In addition to its short lifespan, ATK is of interest to scientists because embryos enter a state of suspended animation called diapause when the water in the swimming pools where he lives dries up. Because the aging clock slows down during this period, which in dryness can be prolonged, the study of diapause may provide new information on strategies for preserving organs and tissues as we age.
One of the goals of the conference was to bring together the global community of scientists working with ATK to make it a laboratory model. In this it was a huge success: the participants exchanged notes on breeding; shared laboratory protocols, resources and tools; initiated plans to implement an online communication forum; and charted a course for the future.
âATK has been around for some time, but its use as a model in scientific research is still relatively new,â Rogers said. âWhen you start with such a small group, you have to be prepared to help each other and share resources. The conference marked the golden start of establishing ATK as a central model system – it’s not yet a golden age, but it was certainly a golden start.