Want to cure deafness? Start with 20,000 zebrafish


A cure for human deafness just might be swimming alongside the thousands of zebrafish in muggy rooms across the hall from Texas A&M University biologist Bruce Riley’s office, and a recent renewal of a federal grant totaling $1.5 million over five years will move him closer to that goal.

Riley studies the inner-ear development of the striped tropical minnows because the genes of all vertebrates — the taxonomic category to which both humans and fish belong — are remarkably similar.

“Our research is founded on the simple idea that the genes that control the development of the inner ear are the same in fish and humans,” Riley said. “We’re trying to figure out what genes control regeneration of zebrafish hair cells, which control hearing. The hope is that if we can understand them, maybe we can figure out a way to coax a similar response out of the equivalent cells in a human. I absolutely believe that’s going to happen in our lifetime. And in principle, it could literally be a cure for deafness.”

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