The laboratory domestication of zebrafish: From diverse populations to inbred substrains

Jaanus Suurväli, Andrew R. Whiteley, Yichen Zheng, Karim Gharbi, Maria Leptin, Thomas Wiehe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


We know from human genetic studies that practically all aspects of biology are strongly influenced by the genetic background, as reflected in the advent of "personalized medicine." Yet, with few exceptions, this is not taken into account when using laboratory populations as animal model systems for research in these fields. Laboratory strains of zebrafish (Danio rerio) are widely used for research in vertebrate developmental biology, behavior, and physiology, for modeling diseases, and for testing pharmaceutic compounds in vivo. However, all of these strains are derived from artificial bottleneck events and therefore are likely to represent only a fraction of the genetic diversity present within the species. Here, we use restriction site-associated DNA sequencing to genetically characterize wild populations of zebrafish from India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, and to compare them to previously published data on four common laboratory strains. We measured nucleotide diversity, heterozygosity, and allele frequency spectra, and find that wild zebrafish are much more diverse than laboratory strains. Further, in wild zebrafish, there is a clear signal of GC-biased gene conversion that is missing in laboratory strains. We also find that zebrafish populations in Nepal and Bangladesh are most distinct from all other strains studied, making them an attractive subject for future studies of zebrafish population genetics and molecular ecology. Finally, isolates of the same strains kept in different laboratories show a pattern of ongoing differentiation into genetically distinct substrains. Together, our findings broaden the basis for future genetic, physiological, pharmaceutic, and evolutionary studies in Danio rerio.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1056-1069
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • RAD-seq
  • genetic differentiation
  • genetic diversity
  • inbreeding
  • laboratory strains
  • wild populations
  • zebrafish


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