As featured on UNC-TV’s Science Now. Written and produced by Frank Graff.
The image on the computer screen in the North Carolina Central University lab at the North Carolina Research Campus is both creepy and fascinating.
It is a creature that is green, with a giant eye, a rapidly opening and closing mouth, and what appears to be blood circulating through its veins. The moving particles seem to form a kind of trail throughout the body.
It is not a computer-generated model of an alien creature for the next Hollywood blockbuster. It is very real. It is a seven-day-old zebrafish under the microscope.
“These fish are perfect for research because in this case we can draw the vessels in the eyes so we can calculate the diameter of the eye,” says Karine Ferri-Lagneau, a research scientist at the NCCU lab. “By then combining pictures from days ago and the present, we can see the vascular and non-vascular images. So we can see if the blood vessels are growing or not growing.”
At first glance, the green creature seems to be out-of-this-world research. But it is actually very practical and down to earth. It turns out that zebrafish are important to researchers because the genes of zebrafish and humans are pretty similiar. In addition, zebrafish eggs are clear and grow outside of the mother’s body. That means scientists can watch the cells divide and form different parts of the body. Scientists can color different types of cells, proteins, enzymes and other items so they can see what happens to the fish if a cell is removed or destroyed. Also, researchers can measure the effects of drug therapies and even natural remedies.
Scientists with North Carolina Central University and North Carolina A&T University’s Center for Excellence in Post Harvest Technologies teamed up to study the bioactive compounds in a pretty common spice – ginger. You can find ginger in a variety of products, such as ginger tea, processed ginger used for baking and flavoring, and even fresh ginger root. The spice has been used for centuries to calm upset stomachs. But early results show that ginger may treat several diseases.