Judith Eisen wins George Streisinger Award for Zebrafish Research

a woman with grayish hair wearing blue gloves works in a lab

May 17, 2024 - 10:00am

Judith Eisen, a biology professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, received the prestigious International Zebrafish Society George Streisinger Award for 2024.

The award recognizes senior investigators in zebrafish research who have made critical contributions to the advancement of the field.

Eisen, whose research involves using zebrafish as a model to understand how the nervous system develops, noted that zebrafish are an important model for her research for a number of reasons. First, zebrafish lay their eggs in the water, which allows the eggs to be collected and examined throughout the developmental process.

“A lot of biology is a numbers game,” Eisen said.

Unlike seasonal breeders such as salmon, zebrafish breed regularly, allowing for plenty of samples and repetition within the lab. Because of the large quantity of embryos, Eisen can examine development in a multitude of different individuals. Zebrafish are also genetically similar to other animals, including humans, allowing her research findings to be applied broadly beyond zebrafish, even to humans.

Before integrating zebrafish into her research, Eisen found herself struggling to achieve the results she wanted with frogs due to the optical properties of their egg yolk, which makes it difficult to see individual cells. This struggle was one of the primary reasons she made the switch to zebrafish—and why many other researchers have done the same.

“The yolk of a zebrafish embryo is segregated away from the other cells, so the optical properties are much better,” Eisen said. “That’s part of why zebrafish have become so common in this field of research.”

Eisen, who was recently elected to the National Academy of Sciences, said the George Streisinger Award is “extra special” because she previously worked alongside Streisinger before he died in 1984. Streisinger was one of the founding fathers of zebrafish research and worked at the University of Oregon throughout the 1970s and 80s, establishing a prominent zebrafish research colony.

Eisen said she is grateful to be recognized by her colleagues for contributing important work to the zebrafish research field.

“Science is never done alone,” she said. “I don't think the award just belongs to me, it represents a group effort and I want to really acknowledge all of those people and all of the opportunities that I've had along the way.”

—By Bailey Meyers, College of Arts and Sciences