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|Mid-Atlantic Regional Zebrafish (MARZ) Fall/Winter Meeting Report|
Authors: Mayumi Miller, HyunMin Jung and Aniket Gore
On Friday, December 9th 2016, zebrafish researchers from around the Mid-Atlantic region gathered at the National Institutes of Health for a day-long research meeting. The meeting is commonly referred to as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Zebrafish or “MARZ” meeting, and is organized twice a year, once in the Spring and once again in the Fall. The MARZ meetings were first started two decades ago with the goal of promoting interaction and providing opportunities for primary investigators, post-docs, graduate students, and laboratory members from throughout the region to share their research findings. Eric Weinberg hosted the first meeting at the University of Pennsylvania in 1996. The success of this meeting led to further meetings twice a year to discuss new research findings and ideas, technologies, and ways to improve the quality of zebrafish research. Over the past several years participation in MARZ meetings has increased dramatically. Recent MARZ meetings have included 150-175 research participants and support from 10-15 vendors and sponsors. The half-day meetings start at around noon and end by late evening, and they include oral sessions with speakers selected from submitted abstracts as well as poster presentations. The simple format of the meeting provides ample time for researchers to meet with their colleagues and interact with vendors.
The most recent MARZ meeting at the National Institutes of Health was the largest yet, attended by more than 200 researchers and 13 vendors. Twelve abstracts were selected for oral presentations and more than sixty posters were presented in the two-hour long poster session. The meeting was organized at the Natcher Conference Center on the scenic main NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. After opening remarks from meeting organizer Aniket Gore (NIH), the meeting got underway with a “poster blitz” consisting of a series of two minute, two slide maximum “curtain raiser” previews of upcoming poster presentations. In one blitz, Patricia Murphy from the Granato lab described how the slit-robo signaling pathway promotes target specific regeneration of spinal motor neuron axons. Her findings highlighted how robo2 is dispensable for nerve development but sufficient to promote directional growth during regeneration. The poster blitz session was followed by the twelve fifteen-minute talks with an intervening poster session. The oral presentations covered a wide variety of zebrafish research topics, including BMP gradient formation in early embryos, the role of neural crest cells in the CNS, asymmetric development of the habenula, and the discovery of a novel perivascular cell type in the zebrafish brain. Joseph Zinski from the Mullins lab described how the source-sink model explains BMP gradient formation in early embryos. The model predicted BMP gradient formation more precisely than a counter-gradient mechanism. The oral presentations also included talks on zebrafish disease models, including the role of cilia in scoliosis, the role of lipids in cardiovascular disease, and imaging approaches to visualize tumor cell metastasis via the zebrafish vasculature. Nicholas Morante from the Burdine lab showed that ciliary motility is essential for normal anterior-posterior axis formation. Defects in ciliary motility or inactivating mutations in cilia morphogenesis genes result in abnormal curvature of the spine modeling human scoliosis. A two-hour poster session organized between the two oral sessions provided ample additional opportunities for participants to learn about exciting research work from many more of their Mid-Atlantic regional colleagues.
The meeting was closed by Brant Weinstein from the NIH, with thanks to Dr. Gore and the announcement of a poster prize winner. Feedback from meeting participants suggested that the meeting was a great success. There was general agreement that the data presented were of high quality and that with every MARZ meeting “the bar is getting raised higher.” Some common themes emerging from the meeting included increasingly widespread use of CRISPR technology to generate mutations in genes of interest, with mutant and morphant phenotypes often compared side by side to discriminate artifacts from the true phenotypes, increased use of more sophisticated and higher quality imaging methods to visualize transgene or endogenous gene expression in zebrafish embryos and larvae, and increased use of assays for testing zebrafish behavior and neural function.
Overall, the meeting initiated by Eric Weinberg 20 years ago with a small cadre of local fish aficionados has now truly come into its own as a key “destination” for zebrafish researchers to gather, interact, and discuss novel ideas. As the mid-Atlantic zebrafish research community continues to expand, it can be expected that this once-small regional meeting will continue to grow in size and importance.
The next MARZ meeting will take place on Friday March 24, 2017 at Johns Hopkins University. Steve Farber and Marnie Halpern are the organizers.