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Thomas Miller Awarded G. J. Mendel Medal


UC Riverside's Thomas Miller Awarded Prestigious Medal from Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic

(June 11, 2003)

Thomas Miller, professor of entomology at UC Riverside, was awarded the G. J. Mendel Honorary Medal for Merit in the Biological Sciences.

Thomas Miller, professor of entomology at UC Riverside, was awarded the G. J. Mendel Honorary Medal for Merit in the Biological Sciences.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- (www.ucr.edu) -- Thomas A. Miller, professor of entomology at UC Riverside, was recently awarded the J. G. Mendel Honorary Medal for Merit in the Biological Sciences for his work in insect physiology, toxicology and genetics, and for his efforts to encourage and foster research partnerships with scientists in Eastern European countries. The award is one of the world's top honors in the biological sciences.

The J. G. Mendel Medal was established by the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in 1965 and is named after the founder of the discipline of genetics, Johannus Gregor Mendel. The medal is awarded by the Academy of Science of the Czech Republic in recognition of outstanding contributions in the biological and agricultural sciences.

Miller was nominated for a J. G. Mendel Award because both his scientific and organizing achievements have proved to be an invaluable help to scientists in the Czech Republic. When it was difficult for Czech scientists to acquire chemicals, books, and equipment from the west, Miller assisted the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (CSAV) in securing required resources. Miller was also instrumental in encouraging scientific collaboration with Eastern block countries. In 1987, he wrote a special message to the National Research Council to persuade American institutions of the advantages of working closely with scientific institutions in Eastern European countries.

Miller joined the UC Riverside Department of Entomology in 1967. His research focuses on areas of insect physiology and toxicology. In 1998, he developed a transgenic line of economically important cotton bollworm, a moth called Pectinophora gossypiella (pink bollworm). Among his many discoveries are: the development of plasmids suitable for the transformation of butterflies and moths; the clarification of the resistance mechanisms on the level of genetic expression of the pink bollworm; and improving the concept of the usage of genetically modified symbionts to observe and regulate insect populations.

Miller is the first scientist in the U.S. to gain approval for the transportation of the transgenic lines of pest insects across state borders. Furthermore, in 2000, he and his colleagues were some of the first in the world to be granted permission for the release of genetically modified insects in field studies. Miller initiated a campaign to create a transformation protocol to destroy and eradicate the pink bollworm by using a totally new technology based on releasing the modified line. This task includes producing a specimen with a gene for controlled lethality and developing a strategy for their mass breeding.

"I am humbled by this award for the practical application of modern genetics in entomology," said Miller. "To be nominated by the famous Lepidopteran geneticist Frantisek Marec is even more humbling. I think it is a nice coincidence that the award comes on the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the structure of DNA."

Miller noted that the Czechs have a long and proud history in science going back to Gregor Mendel himself, the pioneer of experimental genetics. Eclosion triggering hormone was discovered by a Czechoslovakian scientist, Durshan Zitnan, while working in the entomology department at UC Riverside. The famous insect physiologist Karel Slama from Prague has paid working visits to Miller's laboratory on a number of occasions to the direct benefit of the teaching program in the department of entomology. "The award will catalyze further scientific exchange between UC Riverside and the Czech Republic because we are moving beyond basic research into the applied arena that the Czechs are always quick to recognize and exploit," said Miller.

The work honored by the J. G. Medel Award has already attracted outstanding scientists to Miller's laboratory from three continents along with funding for further research. "Our success in research on the pink bollworm has led directly to new crop protection strategies and to new ways of looking at treatments for human health afflictions," he said. "UC Riverside is in an excellent position to take advantage of these strategies."

Miller will give a lecture at the Entomology Institute in Ceske Budejovice on Monday, September 22nd, 2003. The lecture is entitled "Transgenic and paratransgenic insects in crop protection." The award will be presented at the Czech Academy of Sciences Headquarters in Prague on Thursday, September 25th.

The University of California's entomological research in Southern California dates back to 1906. Over the years, the UC Riverside Department of Entomology has excelled in virtually all phases of entomological research and developed a scope of expertise unmatched by any other entomology department in the country. Today, the UC Riverside campus is on the cutting edge of advanced entomological research and features a unique new Insectary and Quarantine facility that permits the safe study of exotic organisms from around the world.

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