WELCOME to the ZebraSonic project!

ZebraSonic – Listening to the Environment: Importance of Early Acoustic Experience on Development and Hearing in Zebrafish


The acoustic environment is part of our sensory world and it is known to impact an animal’s physiology, behavior, development, survival and evolution. Noise pollution is an increasing environmental problem, especially in highly populated areas (such as Macao), acting as a stressor at many levels for organisms within the local environment. Although some effort has been made mostly in birds and mammals, including humans, the impact of the acoustic environment on development and the physiological and behavioral repercussions of noise are far from understood.

Fishes are excellent vertebrate models to address questions regarding physiological adaptations to environmental stressors, as they evolved in widely diverse habitats, possess many specialized morphological features, and offer technical advantages for studies at multiple levels of analysis. The zebrafish Danio rerio is a powerful model system widely used in biomedical research, as it allows one to combine embryology, genetics and in vivo visualization at a cellular level in a single organism. Although it does not possess outer or middle ears, zebrafish have a typical vertebrate inner ear at the cellular level (hair cells), and the development and anatomy have been intensively studied.

This project uses zebrafish as a key vertebrate model system to investigate the effects of the acoustic environment onto the development, physiology and behavior. More specifically, the project aims to 1) test the influence of steroidal estrogen levels on inner ear auditory sensitivity; 2) verify potential estrogen-induced morphological changes in the inner ear; 3) assess the effects of early acoustic experience on steroid levels, morphological development and hearing sensitivity; and 4) investigate the impact of early noise exposure on behavioral traits and cognitive abilities.

Project reference: FDCT 036/2015/A1 (2016-2019)


Team member –  Cornell University (USA)

Paulo Fonseca

Consultant, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade de Lisboa (Portugal)

Research Assistant, ISE, USJ, Macau

Rafael A. Lara

PhD student, ISE, USJ, Macau

Lukas Breitzler

MSc student, ISE, USJ, Macau