By Diane Dietz
MARCH 1, 2016
Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle is getting behind the University of Oregon’s renewed emphasis on research, with a $10 million donation toward the school’s much-publicized genomics research using zebrafish.
The money will support the university’s fish breeding facilities, buy new instruments and expand genomics laboratories, the UO said.
Boyle is beefing up a research area in which the UO initially built its reputation, helping it win admittance to the elite American Association of Universities.
In the 1970s, then-UO professor George Streisinger discovered that zebrafish made an excellent model for humanlike biological processes.
Zebrafish are small and easy to breed and they develop fast; they go from egg to fish within 24 hours.
Streisinger made international headlines when he created the first-ever clone of an organism with a backbone, when he duplicated a zebrafish in his UO lab.
Zebrafish allow researchers to quickly produce and identify mutations that let them decode the function of genes. The fish are transparent at the embryo stage, so changes are easy to observe.
Zebrafish turned out to be so good for research, Streisinger’s discovery seeded a whole industry of zebrafish research.
Laboratories across the globe using zebrafish went from a half-dozen to a peak of more than 500.
The UO has seven laboratories where about 100 researchers perform experiments with zebrafish — an area of strength for the university.
“Not everyone would make a gift to support the basic sciences in the way that Tim and Mary Boyle have done. We’re incredibly grateful,” UO President Michael Schill said in a news release.
The UO-based Zebrafish Information Network, a central repository of global zebrafish research data, employs 21 scientists and software developers. The agency is funded by the National Institutes of Health.
A UO lab now supplies zebrafish for biomedical studies in 47 countries in Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, and Central and South America.
The zebrafish are used in research of human physiology and disease, such as autism, epilepsy and bone regeneration.
The Boyles’ donation will also support research on additional aquatic animals.
The couple — though studying journalism and fine and applied arts at the UO in the late ’60s and early ’70s — had a direct connection with the biology labs.
Boyle’s aunt, Hildegard Lamfrom, was then a researcher in molecular biology there.
Boyle’s mother and father, meanwhile, founded Columbia Sportswear in Portland. Tim Boyle joined the leadership of the company when he was a UO senior, after his father abruptly died of a heart attack. Boyle and his mother built the firm into a publicly traded company with about 5,300 employees and $1 billion a year in sales.
Boyle has served on the UO Foundation Board of Trustees. Columbia Sportswear Chief Administrative Officer Peter Bragdon currently serves on the UO Board of Trustees.