Testimonials for Pioneer Member Ray Wu

Xuemei Chen – Dr. Ray Wu was one of the most impactful people in my life. Through the CUSBEA program, initiated and organized by Dr. Wu, I was able to come to the US for my Ph.D. training after finishing college in China. Dr. Wu also generously provided me a research assistantship in his lab in the summer before the first semester of my Ph.D., so I had some time to adjust to life in the US. During my Ph.D. studies at Cornell University, I received the The Liu Memorial Award and The Hsien Wu and Daisy Yen Wu Scholarship, which I later found to be an award sponsored by donations from Dr. Wu in the honor of his parents. Thanks to Dr. Wu, for giving me and many others opportunities to pursue a career in science.

Xinnian Dong – Dr. Ray Wu was not only a pioneer in recombinant DNA technology and genetic engineering of plants, but he was also the founder of the China-United States Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Examination and Application program, which from 1982 to 1989, brought over 400 of the top Chinese students to the U.S. for graduate training and produced more than 100 faculty members at major universities and key members in industry. Dr. Wu’s legacy will live on through those of us whose lives and careers were significantly enhanced by his scholarship and generosity.

Jing-Shan Hu – Dr. Ray Wu provided an opportunity for me to study for and get a PhD degree in biochemistry and molecular biology in the U.S. via the CUSBEA (China-U.S. Biochemistry Examination and Application) program that he created. Without this opportunity, it would be extremely challenging for me to apply for a PhD program and study during those years when a student from an ordinary family in China, like mine, did not know much at all about the U.S. The CUSBEA program helped fellow students know and support each other. It also attracted non-CUSBEA people in the life sciences to build a society of biological investigators that contributed to the Ray Wu Memorial Fund award, which supports the growth of a younger generation in the life sciences. I am particularly grateful to Dr. Ray Wu for my career sucesses in life sciences and I am inspired by him to contributes to the society in life sciences and helps the younger generation grow.

Bingfang Huan – I came to USA from China because of Dr Ray Wu’s effort in spearheading the CUSBEA program in the 80s. I am forever grateful to him.

Teh-hui Kao – Dr. Ray Wu: Scientist, Mentor and Extraordinary Human Being:  My association with Dr. Ray Wu began in January 1982 when I joined his lab at Cornell as a postdoctoral associate. Prior to working in his lab, my academic and research training had been in chemistry and biochemistry. At that time, recombinant DNA technology was still in its infancy, but its potential for revolutionizing life sciences research was clearly recognized. I consulted with several people about moving into this area, and they all highly recommended that I contact Dr. Wu. I took their advice and wrote Dr. Wu; however, I wasn’t optimistic that he would be interested in having someone without any prior experience join his lab. To my pleasant surprise, Dr. Wu responded positively to my job inquiry and after reviewing my application, he offered me a postdoc position. Before moving to Ithaca, I had a chance to meet Dr. Wu for the first time. I was very impressed by his gentle demeanor and unassuming personality, characteristics that I didn’t always associate with scientists of high stature. This meeting further reinforced my belief that I had made the right decision.

During our first days on the Ithaca campus, Dr. Wu concerned himself not just with my own integration into his lab, but also with the resettlement of my family. My wife has always been deeply grateful for a phone call he made on her behalf to a colleague in the Dean’s Office of the Cornell Graduate School where she was applying for a job. Perhaps it was his call that led to her ultimate employment. Dr. Wu’s faith in her on the basis of just a few interactions made her determined to prove her worth by greater efforts.

When I first joined the lab, Dr. Wu’s research focused on method development and sequence analyses of cytochrome c from various organisms (but no plants yet). For method development, Dr. Wu was mainly interested in further improving (manual) DNA sequencing techniques. I had to learn many basic techniques from scratch, but fortunately, Dr. Wu’s lab had standardized protocols for all routine procedures. After a short learning period, Dr. Wu asked me to work on improving the procedure of cDNA library construction, particularly the step that involved ligating double-stranded cDNA, synthesized from poly(A)+ RNA, to a cloning vector. This step could be accomplished by ligating synthetic adapters with appropriate restriction site(s) to double-stranded cDNA; however, this involved blunt-end ligation, which was not efficient. Dr. Wu asked me to try an alternative approach, using the enzyme terminal transferase to add a “tail” to double-stranded cDNA and a complementary tail to the cloning vector. Since the length of the tail is critical for the efficiency of annealing between the tailed cDNA and vector, my work was to optimize reaction conditions (time and temperature of incubation, concentration of magnesium, amount of enzyme per DNA ends, etc.) so as to maximize the efficiency of cloning. Dr. Wu’s lab had previously characterized terminal transferase quite extensively, and in fact a paper published in 1976 is frequently cited for this enzyme. Throughout this work, I learned directly from Dr. Wu how to properly design experiments and what’s involved in method development.

Approximately a year into my postdoc tenure, Dr. Wu showed me a draft proposal for Rockefeller Foundation funding on identification of rice genes. This represented a completely new direction for Dr. Wu’s research, but it seemed a logical one, as rice is such an important staple for Chinese and most other Asians, and up to that time very few labs in the States had been studying rice at the molecular level. Dr. Wu’s lab was one of the few labs selected and invited by the Rockefeller Foundation to submit proposals. The successful funding of this proposal marked the beginning of Dr. Wu’s significant endeavor in rice research in the ensuing years. However, the transition from a non-plant lab to a plant lab was not easy, as at the beginning no one in the lab had had any prior experience with rice. I made a few mistakes that in hindsight were quite laughable! But, the situation soon improved with the addition of several Chinese plant biologists to the lab and an arrangement to use the growth facility at the Boyce Thompson Institute on campus.

I learned a great deal from Dr. Wu about how to be a good mentor and how to effectively manage a research group. Dr. Wu strongly believed that students should be self-motivated and should not be micro-managed. When a student started a new project, Dr. Wu took time to explain the project and help with design of the initial experiments, but afterwards he rarely “bothered” the student. However, we all knew that we could always count on him to help with problems if we approached him for advice. Since Dr. Wu always brought his lunch prepared by Mrs. Wu, Christina, and ate in a small meeting room near the lab, we often had lunch there together with him. This was a valuable opportunity for us to chat with Dr. Wu and discuss our work almost daily. His lunch often consisted of only rice, tofu and vegetables. To this day, my wife insists that this diet symbolizes for her the intellectually keen, engaged, but gentle nature of Dr. Wu. If the saying that “you are what you eat” is true, then this is the diet to follow!

Dr. Wu cared very much about the success of his students, and I would cite one example. Dr. Wu, two graduate students, and I attended the first International Plant Molecular Biology Symposium in Savannah, Georgia in October 1985, and both of my posters were selected for oral presentations. As I had never given any presentation at a conference before, Dr. Wu felt it was necessary to coach me on how to prepare and deliver my presentations. He advised that I write down the lecture while preparing it, so that I could think ahead of time how to best present a coherent story. The night before my first presentation, Dr. Wu asked me to go to his hotel room and rehearse my talk with him and the two graduate students until he was satisfied. It has been more than three decades since my first experience of research presentation, but I still remember very vividly the pieces of advice Dr. Wu gave me, and I still heed his advice and write down each lecture before I deliver it. I also advise my students to do so.

Dr. Wu’s lab always had a number of visiting scientists from China, and both Dr. Wu and Mrs. Wu took great care in helping them settle in and helped them with any problems they might encounter in their daily lives. Dr. Wu and Mrs. Wu regularly invited all the people in the lab, as well as their family members and friends, to their house to celebrate Chinese and Western holidays (e.g., Chinese New Year, Chinese Harvest Festival, Thanksgiving, Christmas). Their house was modest in size, and having more than 20 people there made it seem very cozy. Mrs. Wu was a wonderful cook, and she always cooked most, if not all, of the dishes, herself. I could imagine that she must have put in a lot of time to prepare a feast for so many people. Mrs. Wu’s mother, Mrs. Chen, lived next door to Dr. and Mrs. Wu, and she often joined us. She must have been in her 80s then, but was energetic and fun to be with. Dr. Wu loved to take pictures at the party; many of the pictures from my Cornell days were copies of the pictures he took. Looking at them always brings back many fond memories. Having been able to interact with Dr. Wu in casual settings brought all of us closer and made me appreciate even more what a wonderful mentor and extraordinary human being Dr. Wu was.

I returned to Ithaca a few times after I left in August 1986. The most memorable occasion was the symposium in honor of Dr. Wu’s 70th birthday, which was held on August 15, 1998. Many former students, postdoctors, visiting scientists, and associates of Dr. Wu returned to Ithaca to celebrate this occasion. Dr. Wu hosted a big dinner banquet the night before the symposium for all the participants. He was very pleased to see so many people, some traveling long distances (even from China) to attend.

Dr. Wu’s contributions to science went far beyond the training of his own students and postdocs. For example, he was the major force behind the establishment of the CUSBEA (China-United States Biochemistry Examination and Application) Program, which, between 1982 and 1989, brought more than 400 students from China to study biological sciences in graduate schools in the States. The immense impact this program had on the elevation of Chinese life sciences has been well documented, so I won’t repeat it here. Dr. Wu was also instrumental in the establishment of the Institute of Molecular Biology and the now Agricultural Biotechnology Research Center at Academia Sinica. I “reunited’ with Dr. Wu in recent years through our serving on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Institute of Plant and Microbial Biology at Academia Sinica. The last time I saw him was at an advisory board meeting in June 2007. He looked great and was fully engaged in discussions with PIs and fellow members of the advisory board. His love for taking pictures had not changed, except that this time he had a digital camera. A few weeks after the meeting, he had his assistant send us digital files of the pictures he took, and these were the last pictures taken with him.

I chose to join Dr. Wu’s lab almost 40 years ago with a simple goal of learning recombinant DNA technology so that I could keep up with the new technology, but what I learned during my tenure there has had a much bigger and ever lasting impact on my research career. I am truly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work for and with Dr. Wu.

Ming Lei – Dr. Wu was a pioneer of many landmark technologies, including DNA sequencing and genetic engineering of rice. He is most worthy of this recognition.

Li Li – An extraordinary scientist and a wonderful person to know.

Xinli Lin – Dr. Ray Wu was a pioneer in genetic research and more importantly, for our CUSBEA (China United State Biochemistry and Examination and Application) fellows, we all benefited from Dr. Wu’s initiative to start the program in 1982. Many outstanding biologists who trained in the US started from the CUSBEA program. Dr. Wu’s contributions and influence encouraged ours and the next generation of plant biochemists and geneticists.

Kelly Jun Liu – Without the CUSBEA program that Dr. Ray Wu founded, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am eternally grateful for his tireless work and long-lasting contributions.

Zhongchi Liu – Dr. Ray Wu established the CUSBEA program in 1982, mading it possible for many Chinese students, including myself, to get advanced training and education in the US. In addition, he made seminal contributions to plant molecular biology and has been an inspirational role model for me and others.

Jun Ma – I was among the first groups of students that came to the US from China to study biochemistry and molecular biology under the CUSBEA program organized by Dr. Ray Wu. I studied at Harvard University and subsequently became a professor in the US and currently am in China. Dr. Wu was a visionary. The program he organized changed the lives of many students like myself. It produced a generation of scientists. As one of the earliest channels for scientific exchange between the US and China, it had a far-reaching impact still being felt today.

Ming-Che Shih – Ray was a great scientist and gentleman. His efforts in promoting agricultural biotechnology research had a lasting impact in the US, Taiwan and China. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Center, Academia Sinica. For his life stories, please see https://abrc.sinica.edu.tw/raywu/view.php?aid=3839.

Xiao-Hong Sun – I owe Dr. Ray Wu a great debt of gratitude for two reasons. One is that as my Ph.D. mentor, he taught me how to think and do science, how to communicate and how to be a good person. The second reason is that Dr. Wu initiated the China-United States Biochemistry Examination and Application (CUSBEA) program, through which I came to Cornell University for my Ph.D. study in 1982. I was among the 422 CUSBEA students who enrolled in top universities all over the United States in the 1980s. Many of these students have gone on to be become leaders in their respective scientific fields. The CUSBEA Program not only immensely advanced our individual careers but also greatly promoted science as a whole.

Baiyang Wang – Dr. Ray Wu not only provided guidance to my research, but also was extremely kind in helping me settle down in the US and learn English pronunciation. His teaching and support contributed to my successful completion of graduate school education.

Jane Wang – The CUSBEA program pioneered by Dr. Wu provided opportunities for hundreds of biomedical students from China, including myself, to further their education and career development. I’m deeply grateful to Dr. Wu for his pioneering work.

Hong Wu & Xin Liu – Dr. Ray Wu was one of the founding fathers of plant genetic engineering and pioneer in the development of pests, drought and salt resistant rice plants. He was also the founder of the CUSBEA (China–United States Biochemistry Examination and Application) program, which recruited and trained many outstanding scientists and facilitated international collaborations in education and research.

Tiyun Wu and Hua Xiao – Professor Ray Wu was one of the greatest scientists and scholars of our time! He was a great mentor and advisor, and we felt extremely fortunate to be his students. No matter how busy he was, he always made time to provide advice to his students. At weekly lab meetings as well as one-on-one discussions, Professor Wu would discuss not only specific research projects, but more importantly long-term career goals we would like to accomplish. He would emphasize that the most important thing is to find out what best fits one’s interest, and to strive to contribute to the advancement of science to one’s capacity.

Professor Wu always set a good example not only in science, but also in everyday life. He lived a very modest life. At lunch, he would always tear a paper towel into smaller pieces, use only one small piece to wipe his hands and lunch container, and save the remaining pieces to use for his lunch the next day. He often reminded us of how many trees were needed to produce those boxes of paper towels, so we should all be conservative in using natural resources, protect our environment,, and keep in mind those who are in need. Professor Wu was very generous to others. Everyone of Professor Wu’s students knows he founded the CUSBEA program that sponsored several hundred top students from China to study in the US for a PhD degree in biological sciences. Just to bring those students from China to the US was a tremendous effort. More importantly, Professor Wu also made every effort to make sure they would succeed. He even used his own hard-earned money (saved over the years) to establish a foundation to financially support excellent students who were in need. It is not a surprise that many of those students went on to become faculty members at many US and Chinese universities and made important contributions to the advancement of science in their respective research fields.

Every year Professor and Mrs. Wu would host a Thanksgiving dinner for his lab members (students, postdoctoral fellows, visiting scientists and their families). For us, this would be the best dinner of the year: in addition to the big turkey, there was always a lot to eat. Professor Wu himself would serve everyone to make sure each of us got what we liked. One year, Professor Wu, with a broad smile as usual, showed us his newly finished project, a sunroom that could hold 10-15 people. To our surprise, Professor Wu himself constructed the new addition on the side of the existing house. This is just one example showing a great scientist can do something other than science. The message is always do a good job on whatever he/she is doing.

Professor Wu left us more than 14 years ago. At that time, he still had pages of research papers under revision at his bedside. We were profoundly saddened with news of his passing. However, to this day his gentle voice and his smile are still vivid. He will always live in our hearts!

Cong Yan – I am proud to be a student member of the CUSBEA program, which was established by Dr. Ray Wu in 1982.

Guo-Liang Yu – My wife and I met in the CUSBEA Program that was initiated and implemented by Dr. Ray Wu. We were in the third class of PhD students to go to the US from China in 1984. Dr. Wu’s influence as a creative scientist and humanitarian was profoundly positive to our lives.

Kevin Yu – Ray Wu was incredibly influential on my father and family. We are pleased to support this recognition for his great work and accomplishments. He was truly a great scientist, father, and friend.

Rumin Zhang – During the decade of the 1980s, Dr. Ray Wu, the late professor at Cornell University, established the once prestigious CUSBEA (China-United State Biochemistry Examination and Application) fellowship program in collaboration with China’s Education Ministry. Over 400 CUSBEA fellows have since become instrumental players in the biomedical sciences and biopharma industry across the Pacific. I am most fortunate to be one of the CUSBEA fellows and a grateful beneficiary of his impactful initiative. His legacy as an accomplished scientist and visionary educator continues to speak inspiration to the new generations of trailblazers following his footsteps.