Universiteit Leiden

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Animal sciences and health

In the theme Animal sciences and health research, we work with different species of animals to learn more about fundamental biological processes.


The zebrafish is an important model species. It is a small species of fish between three and four cm in length that is found in tropical waters and aquaria. Although zebrafish are more distantly related to humans than mammals, the research on zebrafish can provide us fundamental biological knowledge, regarding diseases in humans.

Research with zebrafish is conducted in embryos, the larvae and adult animals. The research with the embryos and larvae (aged up to 5 days) is not registered under the Animal Experimentation Act, but we mention this specifically because it covers a significant part of our research. We use adult animals (older than 5 days) to a lesser extend for our research.

Zebrafish are used in our research as a model for humans. This gives us a great deal of insight into the biological processes involved in diseases, such as cancer, infectious and inflammatory diseases. Our fundamental developmental research lines gain insight into the genetic and environmental factors that play a role in animal and human growth. These insights gained from this type of research make it possible, for example, to look for new possibilities in drug development and new treatments for diseases.

We also carry out research that benefits animals themselves. For example, (adult) zebrafish are used to study the effects of increasing underwater noise caused by humans on the behaviour and well-being of fish.

New screening methods for drugs and other substances are conducted to see whether zebrafish can serve as a possible alternative for mice and other rodents.


Zebra finches are small birds often kept as pets as well. Researchers use them as a model species for research on partner choice among birds. Other research focuses on gaining insight into the cognitive and learning abilities of birds. This research helps us understand more about human cognitive processes, in particular language development.

Next to the research carried out in our research facilities, field studies on birds are also conducted . In this research we study the effects of increasing urban and traffic noise on bird song and behaviour. In addition we study the role of song in the mating and territorial behaviour of birds.

Other animals

We also carry out occasional research on other animal species, including other vertebrates, such as snakes and amphibians. We study snakes to gain insight into evolution and to find applications for the use of their venom. Our research on amphibians focuses on learning more about development processes and evolution.

The invertebrates are used for fundamental and applied research. This mainly involves insects but also squids. Squids are frequently used as model for their strongly developed nervous system and consequently are well characterized. This research focuses on the interaction between the squid and the light-emitting bacteria in the squid’s light organ. We want to understand at a molecular level how this unique symbiosis works.

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