Paul: Could you tell us what sort of work you’re doing to identify genes that promote myelin formation?
Dr Dave Lyons, Researcher: Sure. So that’s the majority of the work we do in the lab actually, and it follows on from your previous question on [incomp], so we really want to identify genes that only function in myelination. So the way we do that in the fish is we take advantage of the fact that you can interfere with multiple genes in fish, you can do so randomly, then you can look for effects on myelination and thereby afterwards use genome sequences to find out what genes specifically affect myelination. We can also take advantage of the imaging qualities of the zebra fish to look at precisely how different genes affect myelination and how those same genes might affect other cell types so that we can really identify specific genes that regulate myelination. And then we’ll take those on to studying their roles in remyelination and with our colleagues looking at their roles in human stem cells and in mammalian models, and so on.
Paul: That’s very interesting. And I was wondering whether you could explain why using fish models, and in particular zebra fish, is advantageous as compared to other methods?
Dr Dave Lyons: Right, yeah, that’s a great question. One of the advantages of using zebra fish for doing these large-scale gene sort of identification screens is because you can collect a lot of zebra fish, in our aquarium here in Edinburgh we’ve got 4,000 tanks of zebra fish, it’s very difficult to maintain other mammalian organisms at that level. We can generate lots of different fish that have mutations in lots of different genes and analyse their effects on myelination very rapidly. Myelination occurs sort of early in the development of a fish, so we can look within a matter of days how a specific gene affects myelination. To do so in other organisms would take much longer periods of time and it’s essentially impossible to keep that large number of animals and sort of identify genes in an unbiased way, systematically. Of course, other organisms have advantages too, where you can interfere with individual genes perhaps in a still yet more elegant way than is possible in zebra fish, although our technologies to interfere with specific genes is improving as well.
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Dr David Lyons received his PhD from from University College London in 2003. Dr Lyons has been with the centre for neuroregeneration since 2009 through a BBSRC fellowship. Dr Lyons received a Research Prize from the Lister institute in 2012 and a senior research fellowship from the welcome trust in 2014.