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The zebrafish embryo is an excellent model of vertebrate development, including human development. Because fish eggs are laid into water when fertilized, the whole process of embryonic development from the one-cell stage onward can easily be examined. In addition, the fish embryos are optically transparent so that events going on inside the embryo can be studied using a variety of imaging techniques. Finally, it has become quite easy to make transgenic fish, providing many ways to change gene regulation in the embryo.
We study the early stem-like progenitors that are responsible for producing many of the structures of the vertebrate body, particularly the muscle and vertebrae. We are interested in understanding how these cells are regulated in order to stay in a progenitor state during the time the body is forming, yet with some of the cells constantly differentiating into their final form. Zebrafish embryos provide an excellent opportunity to study this process in a living animal that can be easily imaged and manipulated.