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Elucidating the gene regulatory networks that control kidney development can provide information about the origins of renal birth defects and kidney disease, as well as insights relevant to the design of clinical interventions for these conditions. The kidney is composed of functional units termed nephrons. Renal malfunction often arises from damage to cells known as podocytes, which are highly specialized epithelial cells that comprise the blood filter, or glomerulus, located on each nephron. Podocytes interact with the vasculature to create an elaborate sieve that collects circulatory fluid, and this filtrate enters the nephron where it is modified to produce urine and balance water homeostasis. Podocytes are an essential cellular component of the glomerular filtration barrier, helping to protect nephrons from the entry of large proteins and circulatory cells. Podocyte loss has catastrophic consequences for renal function and overall health, as podocyte destruction leads to nephron damage and pathological conditions like chronic kidney disease. Despite their importance, there is still a rather limited understanding about the molecular pathways that control podocyte formation. In recent years, however, studies of podocyte development using the zebrafish embryonic kidney, or pronephros, have been an expanding area of nephrology research. Zebrafish form an anatomically simple pronephros comprised of two nephrons that share a single blood filter, and podocyte progenitors can be easily visualized throughout the process of glomerular development. The zebrafish is an especially useful system for studying the mechanisms that are essential for formation of nephron cell types like podocytes due to the high genetic conservation between vertebrate species, including humans. In this review, we discuss how research using the zebrafish has provided new insights into the molecular regulation of the podocyte lineage during kidney ontogeny, complementing contemporary research in other animal models.