We have pioneered a new model organism for aging research, the naturally short-lived African killifish Nothobranchius furzeri. The African killifish lives in ephemeral pools of water in Africa, and has evolved a short life cycle adapted to this habitat. Its embryos can also resist drought until the next wet season in a state of ‘suspended life’. In laboratory conditions, the African killifish has a maximal lifespan of about 4-6 months, and is, so far, the shortest-lived vertebrate that can be bred in captivity. The natural short lifespan make the African killifish an ideal model to probe the mechanisms of aging in vertebrates. We have successfully transformed this natural short-lived vertebrate into a usable model organism for aging research. We have completed the first de novo assembly of the African killifish genome using deep sequencing and have successfully developed CRISPR -Cas9 mediated genome-editing in this fish. The development of modern genomic tools in the African killifish are major steps in pioneering this species as a new vertebrate model for aging research. Our goal is to use this model to discover new principles underlying aging, longevity, and ‘suspended animation’ in vertebrates. We already identified several loci associated with survival between different strains of the African killifish from different regions. Using genome-editing, we have generated strains deficient for several genes in nutrient-sensing and epigenetic pathways. We want to develop this system to examine the role of new vertebrate-specific genes in aging. We are excited to use this system to understand the principles underlying ‘suspended animation’ and whether they have the ability to preserve tissues and organs long-term.
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