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Silver Bullet

Whole body view enables analysis of the effect of genes and disease on melanin

14 October 2021

Silver Bullet

Similar yet simpler than humans, zebrafish are often used as biological models for our tissues – providing life-saving clues to development and disease. Here, researchers examine patterns of melanin, a pigment also found in human skin, in the body of a young zebrafish. To achieve these fine details, researchers took the unusual step of coating the melanin in solid silver. The precious metal interferes with x-rays, allowing a technique called X-ray histotomography (similar to X-ray microtomography) to pick out the patterns. Computer software traces out the melanin in three dimensions producing a rainbow heat map which highlights more (red) and less (blue) pigmented regions. Melanin forms distinct patterns in skin cancers like melanoma often caused by genetic mutations. Studies in zebrafish with similarly mutated genes might reveal characteristic early markers for affected human cells.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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