Flash in the Pond

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Science  18 Jul 2003:
Vol. 301, Issue 5631, pp. 305
DOI: 10.1126/science.301.5631.305a

Worried that time is running through your fingers? Then spare a thought for the African fish Nothobranchius furzeri, the world's least enduring vertebrate. Scientists have discovered that the 5-centimeter-long fish matures, mates, lays its eggs, and dies of old age in just 10 weeks or so.

CREDIT: S. VALDESALICI

The fish's brief appearance on Earth—one-fifth the life span of previous record holders, including related fish and shrews—is a function of its habitat. Living in temporary ponds that materialize for a few months during equatorial Africa's fleeting rainy season, the fish mates and deposits eggs in the muddy bottom to sit out the drier months. That speedy life cycle could make it a new model for aging.

Writing in the 9 July Biology Letters, neuroscientist Alessandro Cellerino of the Italian National Research Council's Institute of Neuroscience in Pisa and Stefano Valdesalici of the Italian Killifish Association in Canossa explain that they bred three generations of more than 100 fish to confirm anecdotal evidence of their mini-life span. The experiments showed that the fish reach maturity at 4 weeks and start dying off 2 weeks later.

The finding “will attract some attention … and stimulate further worthwhile research with this species,” predicts aging researcher Joseph Kemnitz, director of the National Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Cellerino says the fish could be used for studies on aging and antiaging compounds. In contrast, the commonly used zebrafish has a 5-year life span.

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