Center postdoc among top winners in nationwide NIH-sponsored biomedical art contest

Matt Arnegard's depiction of electric fish will be used to help engage and educate policy makers on importance of federal funding for biomedical research
"Because these African electric fish signal in the same currency as the human nervous system, they have yielded huge insights in neuroscience," said Dr. Matthew Arnegard, pictured at the FASEB centennial reception with Nobel laureate Dr. Thomas Cech. Photo courtesy FASEB

In an ocean of scientific imagery, Dr. Matthew Arnegard's depiction of African electric fish clearly rose to the surface in a national biomedical art contest sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. His entry came in No. 3 among 10 winners of the first-ever Bio-Art contest, a competition organized by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, or FASEB. The 100-year-old, 100,000-member organization is the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States.

Arnegard's winning image depicts the species-specific variations in the electric signals that mormyrid fish use to communicate and locate prey. The fish he studied were from the Okano River of Gabon in central Africa.

Funding from the NIH enabled Arnegard and colleagues to investigate how this electrical variability stems from some of the same genetic mutations that in humans lead to congenital heart defects and childhood epilepsy.

"The NIH values evolutionary biology and genetics of species formation, and this shows through their selection of my image," said Arnegard. "Sometimes people forget that evolution is the ultimate context for all of the life sciences-the process that led to everything we see today in biology, including diseases such as cancer."

Arnegard completed the project at the University of Texas in Austin and the University of British Columbia shortly before he joined the Peichel Lab in the Human Biology Division, where he is currently a postdoctoral research fellow working on the genetic basis of species formation in stickleback fish.

Biomedical images: Tools for engaging policy makers

In the course of scientific discovery, U.S. researchers produce thousands of images every day-resources FASEB officials feel have been underutilized in the engagement and education of policy makers and the public on the importance of funding biomedical research. The FASEB created the Bio-Art contest to recognize the most captivating representations of cutting-edge biomedical research and to encourage wider dissemination of such images.

"The FASEB will use the these images as tools in its ongoing efforts to engage members of Congress in dialogue regarding the immense value of the U.S. biomedical research enterprise and the need for sustained support of life science and biomedical research-funding federal agencies, said Dr. Tyrone Spady, FASEB senior science policy analyst.

FASEB flew Arnegard to Washington, D.C., to attend a May 16 Centennial Reception on Capitol Hill where the winning entries were on display. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and three Nobel laureates presided over the event, including Dr. Thomas Cech, whose daughter, Jen Cech, also works in the Peichel Lab.

"Katie Peichel has been an incredible, supportive mentor in my work and career development," Arnegard said. "I really appreciate the fact that faculty at the Center allow their postdocs latitude in developing themselves and their careers in a wide variety of different ways."

In addition to appearing on the FASEB website, all 10 winning images are on the NIH website and on exhibition on the main NIH campus. The images may wind up in reports to Congress.

Collaborators on Arnegard's entry were principal investigator Dr. Harold Zakon of the University of Texas and his technician Ying Lu, as well as Dr. Derrick Zwickl, a postdoc at the University of Kansas.

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