Celebrating Chris Miller at Christravaganza Millerpalooza

Since its founding at Brandeis in 1976, Chris Miller’s lab has been home to 25 graduate students and 35 postdocs. Many of them, together with friends and colleagues from around the world, came together on July 8 and 9 for a two day symposium celebrating Chris’ 70th birthday.

For four decades Miller has used electrophysiological methods to study single ion channels. Ion channels are proteins that open and close, selectively allowing specific ions to cross cell membranes, for example to drive muscle contraction or nerve cell signaling. The selective transport of ions across membranes is a fundamental feature of cells.

Miller began studying channels selective for potassium ions, and then in 1978 discovered a chloride selective channel, from Torpedo, the first member of the important CLC chloride channels whose malfunction is implicated in a variety of diseases. (Its name comes from the electric ray Torpedo californica from which the channel was first isolated.) Chris discovered the unusual “double barreled” architecture of the CLC family of ion channels. The lab continues to work on related proteins, including Cl/H+ exchange-transporters.

Miller’s lab has followed clues in recent years to find additional novel channels to study, including bacterial proteins involved in acid resistance and most recently channels that are selective for fluoride. Chris has been a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator since 1989 and in 2007 he was elected to the US National Academy of Sciences.

Rod MacKinnon ’78 was Chris’ very first student while he was an undergraduate at Brandeis. After medical school, Rod came back to Chris’ lab as a postdoc, and together they investigated the mechanism of calcium activated potassium ion channels. Later, at Rockefeller University, Rod used high resolution x-ray diffraction to determine the complete molecular structure of the proteins that form the channel. For this he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2003. The structure confirmed a cartoon picture of how the potassium channel works that Chris, with postdoctoral fellows MacKinnon and Jaques Neyton, had developed ten years earlier.

Chris’ wife, Brandeis Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature Robin Feuer Miller, and their three daughters were in attendance. Lulu Miller (who is also co-host of the NPR program Invisibilia) introduced her father for the final talk of the symposium.

The editors thank Dan Oprian for help with this article. The photographs were taken by Heratch Ekmekjian.

Eapen wins HHMI International Student Research Fellowship

Vinay Eapen from the Haber Lab in Biology has been awarded an HHMI International Student Research Fellowship. These fellowships, highly sought-after, are among the few available to international students studying at major research universities in the US – there were only 42 recipients nationwide. Eapen is a graduate student entering his fourth year in the Molecular and Cell Biology PhD program at Brandeis, and already has 4 publications from Brandeis to his credit resulting from his studies of the DNA damage checkpoint and autophagy in yeast.


Wolman ’10 named HHMI Medical Research Fellow

Dylan Wolman ’10 talks about the merits of taking a year out of medical school to do intense lab research at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus as part of the HHMI Medical Research Fellows Program in a story on the HHMI News website. Wolman explains

“A year of research provides an avenue to practice what should be an essential skill in any scientific field: questioning ‘why.’ “

While at Brandeis, Wolman, a Bio/Neuro double major, did undergraduate research in the Paradis lab. His thesis on “Involvement of USP12 and USP46 ubiquitin proteases in synaptic glutamate receptor accumulation” earned him high honors in Neuroscience. Wolman is currently a medical student at Tufts University School of Medicine.


Quantitative Biology Bootcamp 2012

What do dinosaur DNA, calculating the global amount of carbon dioxide consumed in photosynthesis, and cooperation and cheating between yeast cells have in common?  They were all topics discussed at the sixth annual Quantitative Biology Bootcamp, held on the Brandeis campus January 12 and 13.

At the bootcamp, more than 40 Ph.D. students and faculty participated in lectures, discussions, and computational projects using both computers and pencil-on-paper approaches.  The Brandeis Quantitative Biology Program is a unique “add-on” graduate program open to students in all six of the natural sciences Ph.D. programs at Brandeis.  The main goal of the program is to train students to work effectively as a part of research teams that span the boundaries of traditional scientific disciplines.  To this end, Quantitative Biology students participate in both courses and out-of-classroom activities, like the Bootcamp, that highlight the diverse approaches to scientific problems taken by scientists from different disciplines.

A central feature of this year’s Bootcamp were the lectures and computer laboratory exercise presented by Jeffrey Boucher, a student in the Biochemistry Ph.D. program and the winner of Quantitative Biology Program’s 2012 HHMI Interfaces Scholar Award.  Boucher’s presentations described mathematical techniques and experimental methods that can be used to understand the processes of biological evolution by reconstructing genes and proteins present in the long-extinct progenitors of present animal, plant and microbial species. Prospective graduate students and others interested in learning more about Brandeis Quantitative Biology can consult the program’s web site at http://www.brandeis.edu/programs/quantbio/index.html

Koushika (PhD ’99) gains HHMI International Early Career Scientist award

Sandhya P. Koushika, a gradute of Brandeis’s Molecular and Cell Biology program (PhD, 1999), and currently running a lab at the National Center for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, has been named an HHMI International Early Career Scientist. This pilot program of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute seeks to identify scientists working abroad with the potential to become scientific leaders, and awards each with $650,000 over five years to help establish independent research programs. Of 28 scientists from 12 countries so named, Koushika was the only recipient in India. While at Brandeis, Koushika worked in Kalpana White‘s lab on the role of ELAV in neural develeopment in Drosophila. In her postdoc, Koushika switched systems to work in the worm C. elegans, and her lab is currently focused on genetic techniques to study axonal transport, a key feature of nerve cells, in the worm model.

HHMI Professors on changing the culture of science education

13 HHMI Professors, including Brandeis’s Irving Epstein, wrote a recent editorial in the journal Science calling for a reexamination of priorities between research and teaching at research universities. The seven initiatives they call for:

  1. Educate faculty about research on learning.
  2. Create awards and named professorships that provide research support for outstanding teachers.
  3. Require excellence in teaching for promotion.
  4. Create teaching discussion groups.
  5. Create cross-disciplinary programs in college-level learning.
  6. Provide ongoing support for effective science teaching.
  7. Engage chairs, deans, and presidents.

Strong stuff — will we respond to this challenge?

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