A Model Fish: Lesson Plan

Because all vertebrates have a common ancestor, the process of development from egg to embryo is the same for both humans and fish. Learn how scientists use the ghostly transparent strand of zebrafish to test hypotheses on a fish instead of a human. Two sets of academic researchers better understand therapies and cancers by using this model organism.

UNC-TV Media

Alignment to NC Essential Standards

  • NCES.8.L.2.1 — Summarize aspects of biotechnology, including specific genetic information available, careers, economic benefits to North Carolina, ethical issues and implications for agriculture. 

Learning Outcomes

Students will summarize the biotechnology involved with using zebrafish as models. 

Essential Questions

  1. Why are zebrafish good models?
  2. How are the zebrafish studied?
  3. What are zebrafish helping the researchers understand?

Essential Vocabulary

  • genes
  • embryo
  • biocompounds
  • anemia
  • cancer
  • transplant
  • transgenic
  • immune


Students will view an elapsed time video showing a zebrafish developing from the single-celled stage to hatching. After viewing, ask: What did you observe? What process is being shown? Explain that this is a zebrafish viewed under a microscope and shows the zebrafish developing in an egg and hatching.


Students will work as a small group to research why zebrafish are used as models for research using the resources listed below and others. As students read the articles, have them create a list of reasons that zebrafish are useful models, such as the similarity of their genetic components to humans and the mapping of their genetic sequence.

Following the research, students should compile a master list and discuss how biotechnology helps scientists to study a variety of conditions.


Students will view the NC Science Now video A Model Fish. After viewing the video, students should answer the following questions. They can discuss their answers with a partner or in small groups.

  1. Why are zebrafish being used?
  2. What aspects of the zebrafish make them useful for these projects?
  3. What biotechnology careers are focused on in this video?
  4. What implications does this research have?


Students will participate in a discussion about the two research projects in the video. Then, challenge the students to explore other ways that scientists are using zebrafish to model human processes. Have them write a paragraph explaining what is learned and why the zebrafish are a good model for this research.


Students will work independently to research another animal that is used for a model for humans such as mice, pigs, and monkeys. Then students will compare and contrast the zebrafish and the selected animal to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each model, using a graphic organizer such as the one below.


Additional Resources: