From the President's Desk
Message from the incoming President
I am honored and enthused to become the 5th President of the International Zebrafish Society (IZFS). From the moment I visited the zebrafish labs in Eugene at the University of Oregon to interview for my dream postdoctoral position with Wolfgang Driever, I realized that there was something special not only about the zebrafish as an experimental model, but also about the community of scientists investigating this tropical fish. These first positive impressions were augmented over time and the zebrafish community became my scientific family because of its collaborative culture and focus on science, rather than egos.
The zebrafish scientific pioneers, starting with our founding father, George Streisinger, and his close colleagues, Chuck Kimmel, Judith Eisen, John Postlethwait, Monte Westerfield and James Weston, who caught the zebrafish “bug”, provided the foundation for the field, and established the stimulating and scientifically rigorous, yet inviting culture that embodies the zebrafish community. I recall the first international zebrafish meeting in Cold Spring Harbor in 1994, with a total of 164 attendees, representing most of the zebrafish researchers worldwide. Among the discussions of numerous mutants from the Tübingen and Boston genetic screens, in Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard’s and Wolfgang Driever’s labs, respectively, and of new mechanistic insights about zebrafish embryogenesis from many labs, there were strategic conversations as well. There was a feeling of the zebrafish field taking off and that for the young field to succeed, we needed to collaborate rather than compete, we needed to exchange mutants, clones and new methods to accelerate progress and discovery.
What was and continues to be remarkable about the zebrafish community is how closely knit it is. Traditionally, all the principal investigators (PIs) attended the International and European Zebrafish Conferences, even if most of the talks were presented by trainees, and this remained true even after we launched the Strategic Conference of Zebrafish Investigators. Indeed, a not-so-small group of PIs attended most if not all of these conferences! The exchange of information, mutant and transgenic lines, antibodies and clones have been greatly facilitated by the outstanding Zebrafish Information Network (ZFIN, https://zfin.org/) and the Zebrafish International Resource Center (ZIRC, firstname.lastname@example.org), and more recently greatly enhanced by the European, Chinese and Japanese stock centers. It is possibly because the zebrafish community operated as a great self-organized scientific society that we only established an official one, the IZFS, in 2014!
Over the past several years our Society grew to around 1,000 members and endeavors to be an intellectual and social hub of the zebrafish scientific community. The previous leadership, and in particular the past President, Phil Ingham, made progress in increasing international participation. With these efforts, the IZFS now has members from each of the six continents of Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, North and South America and the changes in our bylaws ensure that all continents are represented on the Board. We will continue to promote widening participation and diversity of our membership with dedicated efforts of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee led by Kirsten Sadler Edepli. The Society’s efforts are facilitated by excellent professional support of the EDI company led by Nichole Nikolic.
The significance of maintaining and strengthening collegial scientific interactions could not be clearer with the global community facing the unprecedented challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic in the last two years. The Society responded by organizing very popular webinars that feature scientific methods and career topics under the leadership of Tatjana Piotrowski and Elisabeth Busch-Nentwic. Whereas regrettably the 2020 PI meeting in Taiwan was cancelled, Phil Ingham and the International Zebrafish Conference Organizing committee showed great flexibility in planning the 16th International Zebrafish Conference as either in-person, virtual or hybrid. Eventually the constantly shape-shifting SARS-CoV-2 necessitated a virtual format; with near 1,000 attendees and creative organization - this was a very successful conference. Having this valuable experience, and with the enthusiastic organizing committee (Ashley Bruce, Brian Ciruna, Hiromi Hirata, Corinne Houart, Kristen Kwan, Caroline Lei Wee and Flavio Zolessi) and expert help of Alex Llanas from EDI, we are planning the 17th International Zebrafish Conference in Montreal which will be held in a hybrid format. The IZFS, and especially the efforts of the Environmental Sustainability Committee led by Corinne Houart, promoted the concept of a hybrid conference even before pandemic. As Covid-19 vaccines become more broadly available to our membership across the globe and as international borders continue to open up, I am optimistic that we will be able to celebrate the zebrafish community, share the recent scientific advances from our laboratories in person in Montreal and/or virtually. Save the dates June 22-26, 2022 on your calendars and stay safe.
Professor and Head, Developmental Biology
Washington University School of Medicine