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2017 Chi-Bin Chien Award
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The 2017 Chi-Bin Chien Award – Marc Wolman


The following is taken in part from a transcript of remarks delivered by Stephan Neuhauss at the 10th European Zebrafish Meeting where the award was presented.


The Chi-Bin Chien award was created by the zebrafish community to honor a brilliant and inspiring young scientist who left a gap in the zebrafish community due to his untimely death in 2011. Chi-Bin is fondly remembered by many of us in the zebrafish community, both for his quick witted brilliancy and his generosity. Many of us lost a dear friend who we want to commemorate with this award.


Chi-Bin was a true prodigy if there ever was one. He skipped third to eighth grade, entering John Hopkins University at the tender age of 12 to study Physics. At the age of 16, after spending one year at Cambridge University, he started his graduate work in Physics at Caltech. Don’t ask me what I was doing when I was 16.


At Caltech he got interested in measuring action and synaptic potentials in cultured neurons using voltage sensitive dyes, long before activity imaging became popular. This experience inspired him to study the development of neuronal networks, where he made influential contributions. After a postdoc at UCSD with Bill Harris and Christine Holt, working on Xenopus, he joined Friedrich Bonhoeffer’s group at the Max-Planck Institute in Tübingen, where I had the privilege to work alongside him.


During his time in Tübingen, he laid the foundation for his seminal contributions to neurodevelopment, taking full advantage of the zebrafish system. He identified the molecular nature of some of the most intriguing pathfinding mutations and produced some of the first and most beautiful in vivo movies of navigating axons. His innovative contributions spanned all the way from imaging to molecular analyses and experimental embryology. He managed to transplant eye Anlagen at early somite stages; an achievement that proved to be frustratingly impossible for most that tried (including me).


Chi-Bin was always an encouraging and patient teacher. For many years he inspired students at the Woods Hole Zebrafish Course, including a number of years as the course director. His community spirit also shone through when he freely distributed the Tol2kit that enabled many of us to construct our first transgenic fish.


Having said enough about Chi-Bin and his legacy, it is my pleasure to introduce Marc Wolman, this year’s Chi-Bin Chien Award awardee.


Marc did his graduate work in Mary Halloran’s laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, incidentally working on axon pathfinding, before joining Michael Granato’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania.


In the Granato lab, Marc began working on a mutant called space cadet that displayed defects in retinotectal connectivity and startle performance. Marc positionally cloned this mutant, and to everyone’s surprise, found it affects the retinoblastoma 1 (rb1) gene, most notably known as a tumor suppressor in the eye.  Marc went on to demonstrate that defects in this cell cycle regulator result in a delayed exit from the cell cycle in retinal ganglion cell (RGC) precursors.  This produced a transient deficit in differentiated RGCs and subsequent defects in their axon pathfinding at the midline of the central nervous system.  Marc’s work demonstrates for the first time a requirement for rb1 in retinal connectivity during development.


He also made his mark by establishing non-associative learning and memory behavioral paradigms for larval zebrafish, including a high throughput assay to measure habituation behavior. This enabled influential genetic and chemical screens for learning in zebrafish.  Marc led a forward genetic screen in the Granato lab that confirmed 57 mutants with defects in startle performance, startle threshold sensitivity, or habituation.  It is important to note that this is the first genetic screen for learning in vertebrates, and the mutants obtained will benefit the entire neuroscience community.


Last but not least, Marc stands for the collaborative spirit exemplified by Chi-Bin. Marc is a true team player who inspires others.  The screen Marc initiated was a successful collaborative effort with Roshan Jain and Kurt Marsden, both of whom made significant contributions to the effort and have started faculty positions of their own. Marc was involved in a number of collaborations during his postdoctoral tenure that resulted in several publications. Having been one of Chi-Bin’s students at the Woods Hole course, Marc dedicated (and still dedicates) hundreds of hours as the course coordinator of the zebrafish MBL course in Woods Hole.


Marc is now an assistant professor at his alma mater in Madison, where he continues to use zebrafish to dissect the genetic and neural basis of behavior.


You can follow Marc Wolman on Twitter @marcwolman and find him on the web here.



Stephan Neuhauss (Institute of Molecular Life Sciences, University of Zürich)











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