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MARZ April 2017 Meeting Report
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Something was indeed fishy in Baltimore!

2017 started on a high note for zebrafish researchers in the eastern United States at the Spring Mid-Atlantic Regional Zebrafish meeting (MARZ meeting), held March 24th, 2017 on the scenic Johns Hopkins University campus in Baltimore, Maryland.  The meeting, organized by Drs. Marnie Halpern and Steven Farber, featured twelve oral presentations selected from the submitted abstracts, twenty-five plus poster presentations and a keynote speech by a guest speaker.  The meeting was generously supported by a number of local and international vendors, and it also included tables for these vendors to display their products and services and interact with meeting participants during the poster session.  The half-day meeting began at noon with a welcome and opening remarks by Dr. Farber, followed by the first six oral presentations. Jonathan Fillatre from the Thisse lab (University of Virginia) showed how changes in DNA methylation levels influence left-right axis specification. His work has identified a novel function for this epigenetic process that is essential to proper placement of internal organs. On a similar epigenetic theme, Krista Angileri from the Gross lab (University of Pittsburgh) highlighted the role of a DNA methyltransferase in the developing zebrafish eye. She showed that loss of Dnmt1 activity in eye stem cells leads to profound effects on the specification of different cell types in the developing eye.

After the first seminar session, Dr. Halpern introduced the keynote speaker for the meeting, Rachel O'Leary.  Marnie promised the audience they were going to get “something special,” and the fascinating presentation over the course of the next hour certainly proved her correct.  Ms. O’Leary is a fish hobbyist from Pennsylvania, not a professional scientist, but she has nonetheless acquired an immense knowledge and experience in the care and husbandry of a wide variety of tropical dwarf fishes and other fresh water aquatic animals.  Indeed, she has become a well-regarded authority on  “Freshwater Nano Species,” and has published a book on these diminutive animals and how to keep and raise them in addition to running a business rearing and selling them to hobbyists.  In her presentation, Ms. O’Leary discussed the unique adaptations of several different dwarf fishes, and how these adaptations help these species to survive in their specific ecological niches in the wild.  She also touched on how the wild habitats of many of these fish are being degraded or lost and noted the importance of documenting and preserving many of these species.  On a practical level, her talk included many useful insights into how to properly house and maintain tropical fish, either at home or in research facilities.  Her keynote seminar provided an engaging and refreshing interlude between the scientific content of the other meeting sessions.

The keynote presentation was followed by a poster session featuring a wide range of interesting new findings presented with great enthusiasm by the session participants, and this was followed in turn by a second set of six oral presentations.  Joanne Chan (Hampton University) talked about her work on lymphangiogenesis.  Her lab is actively trying to model different human vascular diseases in zebrafish.  Her presentation demonstrated the strengths of the zebrafish model system for studying blood and lymphatic vascular development. Manush Saydmohammed from the Tsang lab (University of Pittsburgh) shared surprising findings about an unconventional myosin gene and its role in Kupffer’s vesicle morphogenesis. He showed that inactivation of this gene leads to defective intracellular vesicle movement and defective polarity. The meeting ended with presentation of a “best poster award” to Marina Venero Galanternik (NICHD, NIH) for her poster on a novel endothelium-derived perivascular cell type in the zebrafish brain, followed by dinner including ample additional time for meeting participants to interact.

Attendance at the MARZ meetings continues to grow, highlighting the important role that this and other comparable regional zebrafish meetings play in providing a venue for trainees to present their work and to receive feedback from their scientific peers.  Like previous MARZ meetings, the 2017 Baltimore meeting showcased the numerous different ways that the zebrafish model is successfully being used to uncover important new insights into vertebrate development and disease. 


Image: Rachel O’Leary in her natural habitat- her fantastic fish room!

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