Engineers at MIT have now built an automated system that can rapidly produce 3-D, micron-resolution images of thousands of zebrafish larvae and precisely analyze their physical traits. The system offers a comprehensive view of how potential drugs affect vertebrates.
Zebrafish are genetically similar to humans and have many of the same developmental pathways, so scientists often use them to model human diseases including cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and autism.
Using the new technology, researchers can grow larvae in tiny wells and flow them through a channel to an imaging platform. Once there, the embryos are rotated and 320 images are taken from different angles, allowing 3-D reconstructions to be made using optical projection tomography (OPT). Getting larvae to the platform takes about 15 seconds, and the imaging takes only 2.5 seconds. This allows hundreds or thousands of larvae to be imaged within hours.
The team also created a computer algorithm that can measure hundreds of traits and use that information to create a comprehensive phenotype map — the overall description of an organism’s characteristics — for each larva. This enables rapid and detailed studies of how different drugs affect those phenotypes.
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