SOU alumna to offer Friday Science Seminar on zebrafish study

SOU alumna and doctoral candidate Sarah Stednitz will offer a lecture from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on Friday that examines the social interactions of zebrafish and their implications on autism research and other deficits in humans’ social behavior.

The Friday Science Seminar event will be in the Science Building Auditorium (Room 151). The lecture is free and refreshments will be provided by SOU’s STEM Division.

Originally from Morro Bay, California, Stednitz was the recipient of the Ruhl Learning Fellowship and graduated from SOU in 2011. She earned her master’s degree at Humboldt State University and is currently pursuing her doctorate at the University of Oregon.

Stednitz’s findings could be instrumental in furthering research on schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders. She has been studying how zebrafish behave in various social situations. The much-researched fish are genetically modifiable and show elaborate social patterns both in the laboratory and in the wild.

Zebrafish use each other to copy motions, and use other socially active fish to begin social orienting. Stednitz’s work shows that a non-engaged fish will not trigger social interactions with a normal fish. The mutated genes in the zebrafish may be similar to mutated genes in humans, which could mean the fish are essentially autistic.

Stednitz’s research is far from complete, however. Multiple questions still need to be answered about similarities and differences in the brains of zebrafish and humans.

“We leveraged modern neuroscience tools to address these questions, providing a foundation to understand how social cognition may be disrupted across species,” Stednitz said.

SOU’s Friday Science Seminar program offers presentations each week on topics ranging from biology to computer science to chemistry.

Story by Bryn Mosier, SOU Marketing and Communications intern