Chris Amemiya, PhD, Becomes AAAS Fellow


Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) is proud to congratulate Chris Amemiya, PhD, a former BRI Member, for being elected to the rank of Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  While at BRI for about 16 years, Dr. Amemiya and his team led comparative genomics and molecular genetics approaches to understanding the developmental and evolutionary aspect of vertebrate innovations including the adaptive immune system. He is now a professor of Molecular Cell Biology in the School of Natural Sciences at the University of California, Merced.   

The Council of AAAS announced the list of fellows on Nov. 20, 2017. Each year the Council elects members whose “efforts on behalf of the advancement of science or its applications are scientifically or socially distinguished. The fellows will be honored at a special ceremony at the annual AAAS meeting Feb. 17, 2018 in Austin, Texas.

Dr. Amemiya, a fellow in Biological Sciences, was selected “For distinguished contributions to developmental genetics, especially for genetic and genomic studies of the coelacanth and other fish, and their implications for developmental evolution.”

“Chris Amemiya has made outstanding contributions to science and to BRI throughout his tenure at the Institute from 2001 until September of this year,” says BRI President Jane Buckner, MD. “We are thrilled that he is receiving this well-deserved honor. While at BRI, Chris worked to understand the origins and evolution of the immune system. His work provided fundamental shifts in studying genes and genomes leading to new and significant discoveries. This work also yielded important insights into fundamental concepts of immune protection. Chris brought a unique perspective to BRI that enriched all of our work. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with him and look forward to observing his future success as he follows a new research direction with a focus on understanding the intersection of biology and the environment.”
Dr. Amemiya’s work in comparative genomics and large-insert molecular cloning led to a fundamental shift in the study of genes and genomes, especially with respect to the characterization of large extended genetic regions, their associated regulatory elements, and the identification of novel genes. BAC libraries and genomic resources that he and his team created at BRI were highly valued by the scientific community and were used to facilitate literally thousands of scientific publications in several areas of biology. The comparative genomics approach also enabled several observations that eventually led to novel and provocative work on programmed genome rearrangement, identification and exploitation of a parallel adaptive immune system, and a potentially new field of biopolymer science.

Dr. Amemiya is looking forward to his new role as a professor of Molecular Cell Biology at University of California, Merced (UCM).   “UCM is the newest research university in the University of California system and is the fastest growing university in the country,” he explains. “My role, in addition to conducting research and teaching, will be to provide leadership to a very young faculty and to provide guidance as the university grows. It is an exciting time for the university. It isn’t often that one can have the opportunity to actively participate in the building of an institution of higher learning.”

His research will continue, but it is evolving. “I have been moving more and more into developmental biology and the intersection of biological mechanisms with the environment, so-called biology-environment interactions,” he notes. “As anthropogenic effects are having profound impacts on our environment and climate, we need to better recognize the underlying mechanisms that contribute to the changes in our ecosystems. It is an infinitely more complex problem than I’ve worked on in the past and one that will require that I work in teams comprised of folks from all branches of science.”

Looking back at his past at BRI, he values the “freedom afforded by the BRI research environment as it allows scientists to take risks and pursue novel lines of research.” He also appreciates the welcoming environment, the outstanding facilities, the encouragement of the other principal investigators and the professional management and administrative team.

“Jerry Nepom has been a great director and leader and BRI’s high standing in the community is largely due to his vision,” says Dr. Amemiya. “I am truly amazed by how far BRI has come and look forward to the many great things that are going to happen under the leadership of Jane Buckner and Steve Ziegler.”

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