Testimonials for Pioneer Member Nam-Hai Chua

Marc Boutry – After completing my PhD thesis in the yeast field, I wanted to do a postdoctoral stay in the plant field. At that time, I had very poor knowledge of that field and my PhD advisor, André Goffeau, suggested that I join Nam-Hai Chua’s lab at Rockefeller. I was fortunate to be accepted in his lab. Looking back, I can’t imagine a better place than Nam’s lab. I spent three years in a heavenly scientific environment, with very supportive and cooperative colleagues.
One day Nam asked me if I was satisfied to be in his lab. As a joke, I replied that I really liked to be in New York! Of course, I loved my stay in Nam’s lab, I appreciated his kindness, dynamism, creativity, sharp mind, and high scientific standards. Also his curiosity, which led him to come and look at autoradiograms as soon as these were coming from the developer. As a joke, he used to tell me that I was his preferred Belgian postdoc fellow. Actually, at that time, I was the first and only Belgian postdoc in his lab!
Nam has been a mentor and a model, who inspired me when I, in turn, came to mentor students and postdoc fellows at the Louvain University. Looking back at my professional career, I see a few people who, at crossroads, helped me to take the best path. Without any doubt, Nam was one of them. I am forever thankful to him !

Chris Bowler Nam – thanks to your mentorship I have now moved from a second class CNRS scientist to ‘classe exceptionnelle.’ I feel very proud and privileged to have been in your lab ! Chris Bowler

Gloria Coruzzi – I came of “scientific” age before the advent of cell-phones, so while I do not have a trove of physical photographs, I do have crystal clear mental photographs of life-changing events – especially ones from your lab.

A clear one is when I met you at the door to Alex Tzagoloff’s lab at Columbia. After your seminar, I showed you the results of my DNA sequencing of the yeast mitochondrial genome, and before leaving you asked me to consider joining your lab for a post-doc. When I told people this news they said: “If Nam-Hai Chua asks you to join his lab – run, don’t walk.”

My next mental photo was of our follow-up lunch at the top-floor Rockefeller faculty dining hall. You drew out plans for a project on a napkin that turned into my NIH post-doc project – to clone the first genes in plants. I remember going to the Burr’s lab in Brookhaven to learn how to fractionate plant DNA on sucrose gradients and make phage extract to isolate the first rbcS clones with Rich Broglie. We were surprised to obtain multiple genes, and our tubes labeled “rbcS-3C and 3D” became legend. I also remember how you graciously gave me your slot to speak of the discovery at the ISPMB meeting in Lake Garda, Italy.

In the Bronk lab, I have mental photos of you leaving your office to join me at the bench to learn how to do DNA sequencing. Your enthusiasm was infectious. We always joked that Lu-San and Lu-Ling would work in my lab once they were tall enough to see over the bench top.

My next mental photo is when you introduced me to Leslie Misrock, who was visiting the lab to represent Agrigenetics. Subsequently, you introduced Leslie to my sister Laura, and gave her sage counsel on pursuing a career in IP law and biotechnology. You changed Laura’s life on that fateful day. I think she still owes you your “10%”!

A later mental photo was your introduction at my promotion talk at Caspary. You said that speaking at your “home” institution was like talking to your mother…you could never say anything right. But, in my case everything I said to my mother was right…then you waved to Lucy in the audience and said “Hi Mom”. I will never forget your kindness.

Nam – you were a role model to so many of us – you led by example. Your work was of the highest caliber, and you respected and supported the people who worked for you. This is a very heart-felt thank you for all you have done for me, for my sister and for our field of plant biology. I feel so privileged to have the Nam-Hai Chua Lab in my pedigree. I do hope we can keep in touch in the coming years when you are in NYC. Let’s keep the friendship going.

Rong-Xiang Fang – I came to Chua’s lab in 1986 as a plant virologist, and two years later, thanks to the mentoring of Professor Chua, became an experienced plant molecular biologist. I am now proudly retired as one of the PIONEERs of the society of plant pathology in my country.

Robert Fluhr – For me, it was 2.5 years of a thrilling scientific roller coaster ride. You put together a great team and nurtured each one in so many ways. What a mensch you are as well as a role model for whole generations of scientists. It will always be an honor to say that I did a postdoc in Nam’s lab. Best of health and continued innovative science!

Giovanna Frugis – When I was an undergraduate student, the name “Nam-Hai Chua” was synonymous with “Plant Molecular Biology”. When I had to decide where to go for my post-doc, the Chua lab was my first choice. I lived an amazing time in the Chua Lab in New York City, I learned how to work with the model species Arabidopsis thaliana, how to address my research, and much more. In his lab I had the honor to contribute to two highly cited studies about the function of the NAC1 and WUSCHEL transcription factors, and I’ve continued to study transcription factors and gene regulation to this day. But the thing Nam remembers most about me is definitely the Tiramisù Italian cake I often prepared for the lab!

Arthur Grossman – My time spent in Nam’s lab was extremely productive and gave me the opportunity to learn some of the most sophisticated biochemical/cell biological and molecular techniques being applied to algae (at the time) and to immerse myself in critical issues confronting the biology of photosynthetic organisms and, specifically, the biogenesis of the photosynthetic apparatus. I am extremely grateful to Nam for being a knowledgeable, enthusiastic, appropriately skeptical and sometimes a highly excitable mentor. Much of my orientation over the years was shaped by my experiences as a postdoc with Nam, and by the many innovative scientists that I met during my tenure at The Rockefeller… and I still feel that it was at that time that I produced some of the best protein gels of my life!

Diana Horvath – Some time around 1988, I was intrigued to hear that the renown Nam-Hai Chua was invited to speak at Northwestern, where I was a graduate student. As a molecular biologist with an interest in plants, I was already well-acquainted with his foundational contributions to plant science in light signal transduction and the control of gene expression. Landing a postdoc in his lab was an exciting prospect, so I made sure to host the period of his student interactions and spent time with him that day. Evidently I made a reasonably positive impression, as Nam was receptive to my later request to join his lab. The five years I spent in the Chua lab made for a fantastic postdoc experience. The quality of science, community of people, and resources within the lab and at the Rockefeller University were nothing short of heady. Nam had an amazing ability to keep track of and provide astute input to the large number of people and activities in the lab, while giving people space and opportunity to develop themselves as scientists. Only occasionally did we wonder if it was a coincidence that so many of us had apartments on the north side of Scholars Residence in sight of Nam’s office window. Nam has a great talent for combining excellence in fundamental science with a strategic eye for practical application. Insights into the DNA elements that affected gene regulation in the 35S viral promoter, for example, were adopted for use in visualizing when and where genes were expressed in planta and modulated traits in seeds. Recognizing that application was my area of interest, Nam fostered my career path by bringing my attention to an opportunity beyond the bench. I transitioned into the business side of science, advancing practical uses of molecular biology into agriculture. Even in this different direction, it’s been my pleasure to continue to follow the progress of the Chua lab and periodically seek advice from Nam. Through the years he has remained a constant contributor to fundamental discoveries in plant science. Moreover, he has trained a global network of excellent scientists who have become key contributors and leaders in academia and industry. It’s an honor to be a part of this great scientific heritage.

Takeshi Izawa – When I visited Chua’s Lab and met him in NY first, he gave me two questions; “Do you work hard?” & “Do not you mind I call you at home?”. Of course, I said immediately “Yes” to him. To be honest, I thought that I have come to a kind of sweatshop laboratory at that moment, but I was completely wrong. During two years in my stay in Chua’s Lab, how many times did he call out to me “Are your family alright in NY? Everything is OK? Every time he called, I felt happy to work with him. When I met him three years ago twenty-five years after I left Chua’s Lab, he remembered my wife and asked about her recent activity. He is such a boss!

Fumiaki Katagiri – I still wonder sometimes what Nam saw in me when I came in 1986 to interview for his lab in the graduate program at the Rockefeller University: I was a Japanese Master course student who barely spoke English. Whatever the reason, Nam decided to take me as his graduate student, which completely changed my life since then. It was fun and stimulating to be in his lab. I was surrounded by many great people, of course, including Nam himself. Nam interacted with us like he was our big brother. At the same time, Nam was not afraid of discussing and trying various unconventional ideas. It became my dream to have my own research group, just like Nam’s, which turned out to be too ambitious for me, though. Still, I cannot thank Nam enough for the positive impact he had on my life. He has always been my big brother to look up to.

Steve Kay – Nam-Hai Chua has been an unequivocal leader in plant biology for the last three decades. His group pioneered our understanding of how plants perceive and transduce light signals into genomic responses. But perhaps his greatest legacy has been the training of an entire generation of new leaders in plant sciences, many of whom have gone onto to be pioneers of their own fields. Nam-Hai Chua set the example of rigorous science, an intense work ethic coupled with collegiality and good humor.

 Brian Keith – I had the honor of being one of Nam’s early graduate students during the 1980s. It was a truly exciting time as the lab embraced new molecular and transgenic techniques and began elucidating the regulation of plant gene expression. It is hard to overstate how much I benefited from Nam’s example and guidance: he always insisted on absolutely rigorous science and emphasized thinking creatively past the obvious next steps. I also benefited mightily from the tutelage and camaraderie of Gloria Coruzzi, Rich Broglie, Scott Tingey, Pam Green, Steve Kay, John Mundy, and so many other remarkable scientists who Nam assembled in his lab. It was a fantastic place to train and I have always been deeply grateful for the opportunity to have learned from him and his trainees just what it means to do excellent science. And, of course, I also played a whole lot of squash with Nam – I’m pretty sure I won at least a few games, but even when I didn’t, it was always a lot of fun. Congratulations, Nam, on this and all your many outstanding achievements – I am very proud to have been your student all those years ago.

Robert McGrath – While an undergraduate at a small college, I first encountered Nam through his seminal publications on light-regulated gene expression. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that his simple act of responding to a letter and sending me a clone would set me off on the path I followed. Coming to Rockefeller and being Nam’s student was the experience of a lifetime. The large, diverse, international lab was the perfect environment to learn how to do science. Brilliant researchers set loose on projects that demanded innovation showed me how progress is made. All of that was made possible by Nam, who showed me that science and life are teamwork, and that a leader doesn’t tell you what to do, but gives you the opportunity to take chances and make good decisions, trusting people to be their best. Thank you, Nam, for giving me a chance and showing me what success really is.

Giorgio Morelli – Dear Nam,

I have a very vivid memory of when I first met you in your laboratory at Rockefeller University. I had just landed in New York and could barely speak a word of English. You told Gloria to host me in her lab, while waiting for me to be able to communicate. This magically happened in a very short time thanks to your ability to establish relationships that go beyond scientific aspects.
The two years spent in your lab were extraordinary, we had just begun to transform plant cells and we could see that we were really working in a frontier field that would soon change the way we study the mechanisms that regulate the development and growth of plants.
Only a few months after my arrival in New York we were on a plane that would take us from Rome to Israel to attend the 1984 conference on plant molecular biology. It was another extraordinary moment: your short stay in Rome with cultural and culinary visits, the conference – where you unsuccessfully tried to convince me to do the speech in your place (!) – and the car trip from Jerusalem to the Palestinian territories up to Massada and the Dead Sea with two other scientist friends of yours.
After my return to Italy, you offered Ida and me the possibility to spend two weeks in your laboratory to prepare RNA from Arabidopsis, because at that time we did not have the possibility to grow plants in our laboratories. It was only because of your generous help that we were able to confirm our discovery of HD-ZIP genes in the plant made from a commercial cDNA library and thus begin our scientific adventure.
This generous help from you greatly strengthened our scientific interaction -do you remember the afternoons spent discussing shade avoidance? – and our friendship, and in the following years several times Ida and I had the opportunity to be hosted at the Rockefeller University or to have you and Pearl in Rome on vacation. Unforgettable! Then our trip, you, Ida Pearl and I, to Verona, Mantova and Milan, after a conference on Lake Garda to which you had been invited.
And there would be so many other episodes to remember…

Nam – you are and remain a reference for many of us – your wide scientific curiosity and your clarity, accuracy and elegance in the presentation and elaboration of scientific activity are hardly found in the same scientist. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have done for Ida and me in our scientific work. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with you. When the pandemic is over, I hope we will have the chance to meet again, talking about science maybe at the table eating gourmet food as we have done so many times in the past years.

With much fondness,

Giorgio Morelli

John Mundy – When taking stock, who’s who pales with who matters: who did the best work, who taught you the most, and who had the mind and character you wish for yourself. For me and many others, Nam-Hai Chua is one who matters.

 Ferenc Nagy – Dear Nam:
Congratulation for the ASPB Pioneer recognition! The 5 years I spent in your laboratory opened a new world for me and profoundly changed my view about how to perform cutting edge research. Thanks for everything and I feel privileged to call you a friend.
I wish you all the best for the future!
Sincerely yours,
Ferenc Nagy

Natasha Raikhel – I am very honored to be included in your Pioneer tribute! Although I never worked in your laboratory, I always felt as though I was a part of it. This is because I very much respect and admire you and your science and because I am a close friend with some of your best former postdocs. You established very high standards within plant molecular biology at a time when our field was still in its infancy, which is very admirable. And by doing so, you became a mentor for all of us, whether we were in your lab or someone else’s. I really believe that you were the very first and very special mentor for people in our field who wanted to reach the highest standards and who were not afraid to take on new and exciting challenges. In my own lab, I often asked myself, ‘What would Nam do in such a situation?’ I was very fortunate to have met you personally and even have a few dinners with you in various parts of the world.
All the very, very best, Nam
Natasha Raikhel

Jose Luis Reyes – Nam was my advisor during my postdoctoral training. More than that, he showed me an exciting way of doing first level science, how to work as part of an interesting and very productive team and how to address research in an original manner. Moreover, he also became a friend and helped me and my family in countless ways. We’ll always cherish the unique experience we had in New York, and Nam was a central part of it.

Makoto Takano – This Pioneer honor will mean a lot to Professor Nam-Hai Chua, who has been a role-model to many – not only in his words, but importantly in his actions. His creative intelligence and joy for science is matched only by his modesty – so being recognized by his mentees/colleagues is something he will cherish.

Xiu-Jie Wang – Prof. Nam-Hai Chua is a preeminent plant molecular scientist and an esteemed advisor. Besides the pioneer scientific discoveries from him and his team, Nam also made great contributions in promoting plant science and agricultural research around the world, especially in Singapore and China. Such contributions are in part reflected by his involvement as an advisor for the national or international organizations of 13 countries, his role in the editorial board of more than 20 scientific journals, and over 200 students and postdocs trained by him. For me, having the opportunity to study and follow the guidance of Nam is an invaluable experience. What I learned from Nam was not only the most advanced knowledge and techniques, but also the way to think about doing research and making innovations, the vision for the future direction of the science and society, and the duties a scientist should have for his/her country and the world. All of these have big impacts on my life and my career.

Mary Williams – As I was finishing up my undergraduate degree at Berkeley, after two years of yeast research, I knew I wanted to look into developmental and cell-type specific gene regulation, but flies and mice didn’t appeal to me. Nam’s group was pioneering the use of transgenic plants as a way to tease out promoter elements, and eventually their associated proteins, so it was a perfect fit. Nam had secured ample funding and resources to build a large and exceptionally creative and dynamic group that was truly at the cutting edge of plant molecular biology. From our roof-top greenhouses overlooking the East River, our discoveries really were on top of the world. Thank you Nam and fellow Chua-ites for the fantastic times we shared.

Hui-Wen Wu – Prof. Chua is a great postdoctoral supervisor who has groomed many outstanding scientists from a wide range of plant science. He has always been passionate and enthusiastic about the development of new research areas of plant science. He provides meaningful ideas and useful suggestions for the research topics. It has been my honor to work with Prof. Chua in my research career.

 Seong Wook Yang – Not to mention his extraordinary contributions to plant molecular biology, literally as a pioneer of the field, he has inspired and trained many junior researchers his whole life.
Today, as I flashback to how my dreams have materialized into reality as a researcher and professor, he stands clearly in my mind as an advisor and a role model scientist.

Xiuren Zhang – I, like many other plant biologists, am very delighted to see that Nam is now honored as an ASPB Pioneer, a long-time overdue credit for him! Nam truly deserves this honor because of his numerous pioneering studies and paradigm-shifting discoveries as well as significant achievements in training so many distinguished plant scientists! Personally, I appreciate to Nam for his offering me an opportunity to pursue postdoc training, to obtain his insightful advice, and to fully explore my potentiality in scientific research in his laboratory. Precisely speaking, it was Nam who changed my career path! I am indebted to Nam for his priceless support!