Despite the pre-eminence of the mouse in modelling human disease, several aspects of murine biology limit its routine use in large-scale genetic and therapeutic screening. Many researchers who are interested in an embryologically and genetically tractable disease model have now turned to zebrafish. Zebrafish biology allows ready access to all developmental stages, and the optical clarity of embryos and larvae allow real-time imaging of developing pathologies. Sophisticated mutagenesis and screening strategies on a large scale, and with an economy that is not possible in other vertebrate systems, have generated zebrafish models of a wide variety of human diseases. This Review surveys the achievements and potential of zebrafish for modelling human diseases and for drug discovery and development.