Jan Huisken


The overall goal in the Huisken lab is the systematic study of developmental processes in living organisms by noninvasive biomedical imaging techniques such as optical microscopy. Of primary interest is the investigation of organogenesis in zebrafish with special emphasis on the function and morphogenesis of the cardiovascular system and the endoderm. We develop novel quantitative microscopy tools and experimental strategies to understand and describe tissue dynamics on a cellular level. High-speed fluorescence microscopy is the primary tool to capture the dynamics of a heartbeat and the fate of single cells during organogenesis.

In our interdisciplinary lab we address all experimental steps from innovative transgenic lines and microscope development to systematic image processing. The biologists in the lab have the opportunity to use cutting edge microscopy to perform experiments that are impossible with off-the-shelf instruments. At the same time the physicists in the lab can build novel microscopes that are immedietly applied to address exciting biological questions.

Imaging technologies

One of the technologies that are being developed is selective plane illumination microscopy (SPIM). This fluorescence microscopy technique uses a focused light-sheet to illuminate the specimen from the side. SPIM achieves excellent resolution at high penetration depths while being minimally invasive at the same time. SPIM offers a number of advantages over established techniques such as strongly reduced photo-bleaching, high dynamic range, and high acquisition speed. The translucent nature of the zebrafish embryo allows for observation of the heart and the whole cardiovascular system in the living animal. Optical manipulation tools like photo-convertible fluorophores, photo-activatable ion-channels, and laser nanosurgery are used in addition to image acquisition.

High-speed recordings of zebrafish heart beats. High-speed mSPIM video sequence of a transgenic fish expressing fluorescent proteins in the endocardium [Tg(flk1:GFP)s843], myocardium [Tg(cmlc2:DsRed)s879] and blood [Tg(gata1:DsRed)sd2]. The movie was recorded at 69 frames per second. Three frames are shown, corresponding to the atrial diastole (left), the atrial systole (middle) and the ventricular diastole (right).

The lab takes a truly interdisciplinary approach. Scientists with various backgrounds collaborate and develop novel experimental strategies to achieve a common goal.

Future goals

  • multi-dimensional reconstruction of the zebrafish heart during development
  • detailed dynamic map of the vascular system, annotated with blood flow parameters
  • multi-dimensional visualization to study embryo to embryo differences
  • regenerative processes in the cardiovascular system
  • tracking early endoderm development across the entire embryo
  • development of the next generation SPIM