The following is a transcript of remarks delivered by David Grunwald at the TAGC session where the award was given.
The Chi-Bin Chien award was created to honor a brilliant and inspiring young scientist who was quickly recognized as friend of many people throughout the zebrafish community and who died very young a few years ago of cancer. Chi-bin was diagnosed with advanced cancer within two years of assuming his first faculty position and yet spent the next 12 years as a young and vibrant leader of our field until his death. Chi-Bin was known for his imaginativeness and his brilliance, his enthusiasm for the work of others, his honest critical eye which came with a giggle and the smile you see here. He was a postdoc in Tubingen during the latter years of the big screen, where he wanted to tackle a terrifyingly difficult problem of how neural circuitry is built with such incredible specificity. This image, taken by Chi-Bin, which shows connectivity between the retina and the brain. As shown in this slide, he had a remarkable sense of humor and curiosity, and it was an easy decision by many to create an award in his honor. In addition to his own work, Chi-bin was devoted to building our field. He and his lab developed new tools for making trangenics - the Tol2Kit - which they distributed widely. He was extremely proud of his use of a soldering iron as method to induce heat shock. Chi-Bin taught zebrafish courses at Woods Hole and he served as an organizer of this meeting at a time when he was quite sick. Chi-Bin was wonderfully courageous, showing up at the zebrafish meeting leaning on a walking stick and dancing wildly at the banquet dinner. As shown in this slide, he had a remarkable sense of humor and curiosity, and it was an easy decision by many to create an award in his honor.
The Chi-Bin Chien award recognizes a young scientist who is emerging as a future leader in the zebrafish community. The award recognizes someone who is an excellent scientist, attacking truly challenging problems, perhaps introducing new technologies, and is committed to Chi-Bin’s legacy of generosity and sharing and helping to advance ideas and resources used by the entire community.
So I now break with script and say: because of the respect so many have for Chi-bin's legacy only a handful of young scientists are nominated for this award - and i can say honestly every single one of them is deserving and deserves to feel proud of being nominated. I wish we could acknowledge more of our outstanding young colleagues! You know who you are and you are truly amazing with wonderful futures ahead.
This year’s awardee is Adam Miller
Adam exemplifies the Chi-Bin spirit: he is an outstanding and rigorous scientist who is
eager to develop new tools and technologies for the zebrafish and equally eager to disseminate
them to the community. He is an excellent colleague and an attentive and dedicated mentor;
balancing a general positive supportiveness with incisive, reasoned criticism.
He is described as having a persistent voice for the good things that openness can bring to our scientific lives. As a graduate student, Adam studied cell fate specification in the fly eye; work in which he manipulated gene function in single photoreceptor cells and asked about their subsequent fates.
Adam’s long-term goal is to understand the connection between synaptogenesis and behavior in a living vertebrate animal. His focus is on discovering the genetic and cellular mechanisms
that build electrical synapses: gap junction-based adhesions that pass ions directly between pre- and post-synaptic cells in many neural circuits.
As a postdoc in Cecilia Moens' lab, Adam performed a forward genetic screen to identify mutants that have altered numbers of electrical synapses in the startle response circuit. As with many others in the community, he was faced with the daunting task of identifying the causal mutations.
In order to efficiently identify the underlying mutations Adam single-handedly developed a new RNA-Seq based mutant mapping pipeline, RNAmapper, which he published back to back with another method developed by Jonathon Hill in Joe Yost’s lab aimed at solving the same problem (Miller et al., 2013; http://www.rnamapper.org). Adam works with others.
However, prior to publication, and prior to perfection of the technique, Adam shared this approach with others and collaborated with labs around the world to help others use his technique to clone their genes. A leader of an independent lab wrote: "Adam spent many hours on the phone and in Skype sessions helping us to implement and troubleshoot the software. This culminated in identification of three ENU-induced lesions in a three-week span. It is hard to convey my excitement at that time: it would take many months if not years for us to identify these mutations using old positional cloning approach"
Adam was motivated by these teaching interactions to create an optimized computational
tool and place all the supporting molecular biology methods available online as an open access Web tool. Adam also was among the first to publish use of CRISPR/Cas9 reagents to test gene functions in an F0 screen (Shah et al., 2015).
In his own work, Adam identified gene products required for electrical and chemical synapse formation and he is helping us revise a simple textbook concept of the electrical synapse as a symmetrical structure, showing us that it is built asymmetrically, which helps to explain the asymmetry of current passage through these structures (Miller et al., 2015).
He is lauded as an outstanding mentor and community leader: he has mentored many post-baccalaureate technicians that have gone on to prestigious graduate programs, organized a Seattle-wide “Zebrafish Club” where ~50 local zebrafish researchers from ten fish labs meet to discuss new discoveries, and where he initiated an annual “Technofish Jamboree” with short presentations from area colleagues who are exploring new technologies.
Adam is now an Assistant Professor at The University of Oregon in Eugene, where he was hired to inherit Chuck Kimmel's lab and fill very large shoes.
Miller, A.C., Obholzer, N.D., Shah, A.N., Megason, S.G., and Moens, C.B. (2013) RNA-seq based mapping and candidate identification of mutations from forward genetic screens. Genome research. 23(4):679-686
Miller, A.C., Voelker, L.H., Shah, A.N., Moens, C.B. (2014) Neurobeachin Is Required Postsynaptically for Electrical and Chemical Synapse Formation. Current biology : CB. 25(1):16-28
Shah, A.N., Davey, C.F., Whitebirch, A.C., Miller, A.C., Moens, C.B. (2015) Rapid reverse genetic screening using CRISPR in zebrafish. Nature Methods. 12(6):535-40
Chi-Bin Chien Award Photo Gallery
Chi-Bin’s image of retinal connectivity in the zebrafish brain
Adam Miller delivers his award lecture at TAGC.