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The ethics of zebrafish in research

Dr Don Love and his Auckland University team use zebrafish to study heritable human diseases such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Huntington's disease, and inflammatory bowel disease. Like any research involving animals, their work is subject to strict ethical scrutiny.

Animal models

In order to use zebrafish to help us better understand certain human diseases, the zebrafish need to be ‘given’ the diseases. They then become animal ‘models’ of the human disease.

As with any work involving the manipulation of animals, much care is taken to ensure that the work follows ethical principles. This is a requirement under the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

Ethics committees

In order to get ethical approval to undertake an experiment involving animals, a thorough application must be approved by a formal ethics committee. It is important that a range of perspectives are represented on this panel.

Get video: Ethics committees

Is the research really needed?

To justify an experiment using animals, the value of the outcomes of the research must be judged to be greater than the suffering imposed on the animals, and due consideration must be given to minimising any unavoidable suffering.

Get video: Is animal research needed?

In the case of Dr Love and his zebrafish, the wellbeing of the fish is carefully monitored and humanely dealt with. Because the work is of biological value, and has the potential to lead to treatments for currently incurable diseases, it has been deemed to be acceptable and to date has been granted ethical approval.

However, an application for ethical approval for an experiment must consider how much the animals in the experiment are expected to suffer. This is estimated against a standardised scale of degrees of suffering.

Get video: Welfare of research animals

Zebrafish make a difference

Find out more about Dr Love’s work with zebrafish, and how useful these fish are anyway – they’re very different from humans, after all!

Get information sheet: Zebrafish make a difference

Dr Love’s zebrafish

Join Year 13 Biology students from Wellington, Stratford and Taipa as they ask Dr Love about some of the DNA techniques used in his laboratory, and why the future represents a ‘new dawn’ in biological research.

Get video conference: Dr Love’s zebrafish


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