Advancing human disease research with fish evolutionary mutant models

Trends Genet. 2022 Jan;38(1):22-44. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2021.07.002. Epub 2021 Jul 29.


Model organism research is essential to understand disease mechanisms. However, laboratory-induced genetic models can lack genetic variation and often fail to mimic the spectrum of disease severity. Evolutionary mutant models (EMMs) are species with evolved phenotypes that mimic human disease. EMMs complement traditional laboratory models by providing unique avenues to study gene-by-environment interactions, modular mutations in noncoding regions, and their evolved compensations. EMMs have improved our understanding of complex diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and aging, and illuminated mechanisms in many organs. Rapid advancements of sequencing and genome-editing technologies have catapulted the utility of EMMs, particularly in fish. Fish are the most diverse group of vertebrates, exhibiting a kaleidoscope of specialized phenotypes, many that would be pathogenic in humans but are adaptive in the species' specialized habitat. Importantly, evolved compensations can suggest avenues for novel disease therapies. This review summarizes current research using fish EMMs to advance our understanding of human disease.

Keywords: cavefish; electric fish; icefish; killifish; mummichog; notothenioid; platyfish; stickleback; swordtail; teleost.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Fishes* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Phenotype
  • Vertebrates