New idea for laboratory fish enrichment

Zebrafish in lush green aquarium

You might not realize that a small fish is a common model in biomedical research. The zebrafish reproduces quickly and has external fertilization, rapid development, and a nearly transparent embryo. Its genome has been sequenced, and it’s used in studies of basic biological processes as well as human diseases.

But what about the welfare of fish in the laboratory setting?  Dorothée Therrien, an animal health technician of the Research Institute of McGill University Health Center in Montreal, sought to improve the aquarium environment for small laboratory fish to increase their wellbeing. She created the Aqualabyrinth — a unique structural enrichment that fits within the aquarium and provides complexity, hiding areas, and interest to fish. The Aqualabyrinth was one of the 2020 winners of the Janet Wood Innovation Award, which is given to individuals developing innovative methods of increasing research animal welfare.

Aqualabyrinth (photo credit: Dorothée Therrien)

Therrien and co-author Dr. Aurore Dodelet-Devillers wrote a white paper describing the Aqualabyrinth and comparing it to another structural enrichment used in aquaria. The Aqualabyrinth is made of acrylic polymer plastic, is simple to clean, and can be arranged in a variety of configurations for any small fish. In testing, they found that fish interacted more with the Aqualabyrinth than with an igloo-shaped device.

The Parsemus Foundation supports innovative improvements for laboratory animals, and has been proud to partner with the Janet Wood Innovation Award. Therrien was provided a prize from the Parsemus Foundation for completing her research on the Aqualabyrinth, and now hopes that the idea can be produced by a manufacturer so that it can be more widely available.

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