New technique that images every pigment cell of a whole zebrafish

New technique visualizes every pigment cell of zebrafish in 3D.


The zebrafish (Danio rerio) is an important vertebrate model organism. One of the most readily observable phenotypes in the zebrafish is its distinctive pigmentation patterning, which, in wild-type adults, appears as alternating dark and light longitudinal stripes.

Scientists at Berkeley Lab have developed a new technique to image every pigment cell of a whole zebrafish in 3D.

Melanin is a natural skin pigment. But studying melanin directly with a conventional microscope is challenging. Hence, scientists turned to X-ray imaging, which can pass through optically opaque matter like melanin.

Scientists performed imaging on two sets of zebrafish samples – one with the normal pigmentation associated with the zebrafish’s characteristic black stripes and another from a mutant zebrafish line with lighter stripes called golden.

They then visualized the melanin by using a newly developed staining technique. The technique binds to the pigment and blocks X-rays.

Using the ALS and an X-ray detector system, scientists visualized every melanocyte – a cell containing melanin – of whole wild-type and golden zebrafish larvae about 1.5 mm long. They then used the micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) technique to map the cells in 3D.

The technique combines the new detector system with high X-ray flux from the ALS. Doing so, they achieved a resolution that is 2,000-fold higher than conventional CT.

Scientists noted“The silver-staining technique could be used to learn more about the 3D architecture of melanoma tumors and potentially guide treatment decisions.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Spencer R Katz et al. Whole-organism 3D quantitative characterization of zebrafish melanin by silver deposition micro-CT. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.68920
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