Thursday (04.19.2018)

Julia Ganz promo pic

Today we're highlighting the last lab of #Fishapalooza, Dr. Julia Ganz (BrainyFishGuts) and her Zebrafish! Originally from Germany, Dr. Ganz came to MSU in 2016. To learn more about her go to:

Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

A: I am originally from Germany and did my PhD at theMax Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany. I came to the US for my postdoc at the University of Oregon – the “birth place” of zebrafish research! It was fun working among the founders of the zebrafish field and living in beautiful Oregon. I joint the Department of Integrative Biology in 2016 and I was very excited to bring my zebrafish expertise to MSU and start our own zebrafish lab here.

Q: Can you give us some background on your experiments with zebrafish?

A: In our developmental neurobiology lab, we are interested in understanding which signals tell stem cells in the nervous system to turn into diverse types of neurons and glia cells. We mainly work on the enteric nervous system that sits on top of the gut and regulates all important gut functions, such as gut motility. We also have a shared project with the Braasch lab looking at central nervous system development with an evo-devo focus. In addition to figuring out how the development of the enteric nervous system is regulated we also want to test if this part of the nervous system can regenerate neurons that have been lost, something that zebrafish are remarkably good at (and we are not) and if they do, figure out how they can do it! We use a suite of techniques, genetic tools, like high throughput CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing, diverse developmental techniques as well as in vivo imaging approaches – zebrafish embryos are transparent, so uniquely suited for in vivo imaging.

Q: How did you gain an interest in experimenting on these fish? 

A: I got hooked on zebrafish during my undergraduate and have been working with this model species ever since. Zebrafish are uniquely suited to answer developmental biology questions and they have so many advantages – external development, transparent embryos, big clutches of embryos, genetic tractable, etc.. Once you have seen neurons labeled with a green fluorescent protein and can follow their development in a live organism, it is hard to switch to a different system – I am still fascinated when I look at zebrafish embryos and see their beating heart, blood flow through their body and of course, most importantly for our research, the contractions of the gut!

Q: How long have you been running this experiment, and how long do you see it continuing? 

A: Now that we have our great zebrafish system set-up at here in Giltner Hall, we will continue working on developmental neurobiology questions for a long time. Even though the enteric nervous system is the largest part of the peripheral nervous system and it is also called the “second brain” as it can work independently from input from the brain, surprisingly little is known about how the development of neurons and glia cells are regulated – there are a lot of questions to be answered until we understand the regulatory network necessary to generate this complex nervous system. In the long run, our work is hopefully also going to contribute to a better understanding of enteric nervous system diseases and to therapeutic approaches to replace neurons in those diseases.

Wednesday (04.18.2018)

Ingo Braasch Promo picture

Happy Wednesday! Can you believe we’re already on day 3 of #Fishapalooza? Today we're highlighting Dr. Ingo Braasch's (@FishEvoDevoGeno) spotted gar lab! He and his team also recently edited a special issue on gars for the Journal of Experimental Zoology! Here is the link to the special issue:

Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

A: I am an Assistant Professor in the MSU Integrative Biology Department since 2016. Originally from Germany, I moved to the US after my PhD and worked at the University of Oregon for a couple of years before joining MSU and opening the ‘Fish Evo-Devo-Geno Lab’.

Q: Can you give us some background on your experiments with gar and zebrafish?

A: My broad research question is to understand the evolution of fishes and how changes in their genomes over long periods of evolutionary time lead to changes in their body plans. About 50% of all vertebrate animals are fish, so by studying fish biology we can learn a lot about vertebrate biology in general. Zebrafish is used by many laboratories world-wide as a model system to understand the genetic basis of human diseases, but its genome has changed quite dramatically since the divergence of the ancestor of fish and human. Gar on the other hand, while being a fish, has a genome that is much more similar to that of human. We therefore use it as a ‘bridge species’ to transfer research data from zebrafish to human. We keep both gars and zebrafish in our facilities here at MSU to compare the genetic control of their development side-by-side.

Q: How did you gain an interest in experimenting on these fish? 

A: Gars are fascinating because they are such an unusual fish, for example they can breathe air. Their evolutionary lineage goes back more than 100 million years and by studying their genome and their development, we can learn a lot about the early times of fish evolution, but also how fish evolved into land vertebrates. I started working with gars during my postdoc time at the University of Oregon and since then have developed methods to keep gars in the laboratory and to investigate their genome and development.

Q: How long have you been running this experiment, and how long do you see it continuing? 

A: My passion for fish goes back to my high-school times when I was breeding all kinds of fish species. Scientifically, I have worked with zebrafish for more than 15 years and with gar for the past seven years. Other fish that I used in my research include medaka, platyfish, and cichlids, and we are analyzing the dozens and dozens of fish genomes that become available now. I enjoy comparing a lot of different fish species because this gives us detailed insights into the evolution and genetic basis of diversity across major fish groups. There are more than 30,000 species of fish, so I think we will never run out of research questions…  

Tuesday (04.17.2018)

Janette Boughman Promo Picture

It’s Tuesday so you know what that means: #Fishapalooza day two! Today, we’re highlighting Dr. Janette Boughman and her sticklebacks! She is fascinated by the amazing diversity of life and she studies the process that gives rise to new species and how animals adapt.

Q: Can you give us some background on your experiments with sticklebacks?

A: I do lots of field work in gorgeous places - Iceland and British Columbia - collecting fish from their native lakes and gathering data about their ecology. I bring the fish back to the lab to do behavioral experiments, characterize their senses and body morphology, and do genetics/genomics.

Q: How did you gain an interest in experimenting on these fish? 

A: Stickleback fish adapt and diversify really rapidly, so they are great for studying how adaptation and speciation happens in the real world. They have intriguing behavior, and they are easy to work with (well, relative to some other animals!)

Q: How long have you been running this experiment, and how long do you see it continuing? 

A: I have lots of experiments going on. The biggest project has been going now for about 2 years and will continue for at least 4 more.

To learn more about Dr. Boughman, check out her website here:

Monday (04.16.2018)

Jason Gallant promo picture

To start off #Fishapalooza, we’re highlighting Dr. Jason Gallant! Gallant is originally from Connecticut, and, after his graduate work at Cornell, and his postdoc in Boston, he moved to MSU in 2013. He works with electric fish during the day, but in his free time, spends time with his family, including daughters Ellie and Mae. In his free time, he likes to spend time in his yard as well as playing with his beehives!

We were able to speak with Gallant about his work, check out the snippets from our interview below!

Q: Can you give us some background on your experiments with electric fish?

A: "Our research centers around trying to understand how vertebrate animals evolve 'new' traits. Thanks to new genomics techniques, we are beginning to understand the individual genes that encode many interesting animal traits!

A second dimension of our work is to study how electric signals which the fish use to communicate with one-another, evolve. Two fish with different electrical signals are unlikely to mate with each other-- and therefore the evolution of new signals could facilitate the evolution of new species."

Q: How did you gain an interest in experimenting on these fish?

A: "I have been working with electric fish for about 16 years! I started working with them as an undergraduate and became fascinated by their biology after taking an animal communication class at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. The burning questions I had about these fish at the time were completely unanswered, and we lacked the tools to even try to answer them. I've spent the last decade and a half building these tools, and we are just now starting to glimpse some answers to those questions I asked when I was a college sophomore!"

Q: How long have you been running this experiment, and how long do you see it continuing?

A: "We will be doing research on electric fish for a long time to come. We are hoping to build electric fish, which are traditionally a model system in neuroscience, into a top-tier model system for evolutionary biology research. The missing piece has been the genetics resources and tools. My goal is to establish MSU as a center for collecting this type of data, and developing these tools for electric fish over the next 5-10 years, which will facilitate research nationally and internationally. Thanks to support from the NSF recently, this dream is quickly becoming a reality. In addition to grant support, the College of Natural Sciences and the University Administration has been tremendously supportive of this goal as well. The mission will be accomplished when people think of electric fish the way they think of cichlids or sticklebacks!”

Fun Fact: Every year between Thanksgiving and New Years in the NatSci Building, Gallant puts up a Christmas tree with lights controlled my the electric fish themselves!

For more information about Dr. Jason Gallant, visit