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New opportunities for aging research found in turquoise killifish

Animal models are an essential resource in the research enterprise. Studies in flies, worms, mice, and even yeast, have led to breakthroughs in treating major health problems in humans, such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. These animals are also important in studying the basic biology of aging. They might not look anything like us on the outside, but deep in the cells, they share similar biological mechanisms and genes that contribute to physical changes and diseases associated with age. In addition, because most of these animals have a relatively short lifespan, researchers can test disease—and aging—interventions in a timely way.

Now, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have identified a new animal model for research on aging: the African turquoise killifish. It is the shortest lived vertebrate bred in the lab, with a lifespan of approximately 4 to 6 months. That is six times shorter than the lifespan of mice. Also, unlike mice, killifish have a similar telomere length to that of humans. This makes them particularly suited for studying genetics and telomere-related diseases.

To help with future investigations, the Stanford scientists have developed a biological toolkit of the killifish and made it publically available to the research community. The toolkit includes the sequenced genome of the killifish, with a mapped location of specific genes involved in aging and age-related diseases; genomic data sets and gene models from experiments on 13 genes thought be associated with aging; and stable lines of fish with mutations in select genes.

Reference: Harel I, et al. A platform for rapid exploration of aging and diseases in a naturally short-lived vertebrate, Cell, 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25684364.