George Streisinger

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In Memory of

George Streisinger

"Founding Father" of Zebrafish Developmental and Genetic Research

Born:       December 27, 1927, in Budapest, Hungary
Died:         August 11, 1984, while scuba-diving at the Oregon Coast near Florence

George Streisinger is considered by many of his peers to be the founding father of zebrafish research. At the end of his life, his evolving research focused on how genetic mutations affect nervous system development in lower vertebrates and, in 1981, he published a method using zebrafish that allowed screening for mutants among parthenogenetic offspring of mutagenized females.

He came to the University of Oregon by a circuitous route. In 1960, Dr. Streisinger had accepted a teaching position at Brandeis University while finishing up 4 years of work at Cold Spring Harbor and the Carnegie Institution of Washington. At a meeting at Cold Spring Harbor that summer, he met Dr. Frank Stahl, a member of the University of Oregon’s Institute of Molecular Biology, who convinced him to settle in Oregon instead.  Dr. Streisinger soon formed a strong bond with the University and with his beloved state of Oregon.

During the course of his scientific career, Dr. Streisinger was given several prestigious awards. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1972; in 1975, after being at the University of Oregon for 15 years, he was selected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences, making him only the second Oregonian to receive the distinction. He was also chosen to receive the Howard Taylor Ricketts Award from the University of Chicago in 1982.

Using T4 phage as a model system, Dr. Streisinger’s research made major contributions in deciphering the genetic code, understanding the nature of frameshift mutations and the structure of the T4 phage genome.

George Streisinger dreamed of using the power of the same molecular principles to study the genetics and development of a vertebrate. As a fish hobbyist who knew how easy it was to raise and maintain zebrafish, he began using it as a model system. The fish was small enough to keep the large numbers required for genetic studies, but large enough to do classical embryological manipulations such as transplantations. It was a daring change of course, and he was keenly aware of the critical views of his colleagues. It took almost ten years before he was ready to publish his first zebrafish paper. Much of this time was spent describing the normal morphological and functional development of the zebrafish embryo and developing genetic and husbandry techniques.

Following Dr. Streisinger’s death in 1984, his lab members strove to keep his research progressing. In a letter written one week later, one of his postdocs, David Jonah Grunwald, describes the loss to the lab. "Our lab and the Institute were very devoted to George. He extended an enormous amount of enthusiasm and support for our work and for our personal lives. George had very broad interests that spanned beyond the borders of his expertise. Virtually all members of the Institute (of Molecular Biology) discussed, sporadically or often, their scientific results with him. His range of interests, his willingness to reflect on the activities of others, and his generous spirit combined to make him a central force in guiding and maintaining the communal atmosphere of the Institute..." Fortunately for the future of zebrafish research, Dr. Charles Kimmel, a professor in the Institute of Neuroscience, who had been encouraged by Dr. Streisinger to work with zebrafish, stepped in to "adopt" the lab and to continue the work in developmental genetics.

George Streisinger’s research is still being carried on by his colleagues at the University of Oregon. These include the labs of Drs. Charles Kimmel, Monte Westerfield, Judith Eisen, and John Postlethwait. His proven use of the zebrafish in research has spread to over 300 developmental and genetics labs in over 30 countries and many of the mutant strains produced in the Streisinger Lab are still alive and well in labs throughout the world and are being used towards providing answers to human and animal health issues... a well-deserved legacy for a true pioneer.