September 14, 2020

Congratulations to the winners of the FMI science prizes 2020

Due the covid-19 situation, we could not hold our FMI 50th Anniversary Symposium as planned. Instead, we organized a video conference - for FMI members and our Scientific Advisory Board - to celebrate science virtually. The Award ceremonies for our three annual science prizes were at the heart of the meeting.


Milou Meeuse was awarded the Ed Fischer 2020, which recognizes the best thesis defended in the previous year. This prize is named after Nobel laureate Ed Fischer who was an inaugural member of the FMI Scientific Advisory Board.

For her PhD, conducted in the lab of Helge Grosshans, Milou studied the "C. elegans oscillator", over 3,700 genes that are rhythmically expressed during the larval development of the roundworm C. elegans. One of Milou’s major achievement was to study the oscillator across different scales – from the system down to the molecular level. Together with fellow PhD student Yannick Hauser, Milou demonstrated the coupling of the oscillator with molting and showed that the oscillator can be halted, but only at specific times. Their findings suggest that the oscillator functions as a developmental clock with a developmental checkpoint function. Read more about this part of Milou’s PhD. Milou then went on to characterize the “core oscillator”, i.e., the machinery that generates rhythmic gene expression. She identified six transcription factors as putative core oscillator genes that time worm development.

The Prize Committee highlighted the great progress Milou had achieved on a novel and complex problem by developing new experimental and analytical approaches, and emphasized her achievements in studying the oscillator across scales.


Thomas Frank was awarded the Max Burger Prize 2020, which recognizes an outstanding paper by a postdoctoral fellow in the previous year. This prize is named after Max M. Burger who was Director of the FMI for almost 15 years (1987-2001).

Thomas, who is now a group leader at the MPI in Martinsried, Germany conducted his postdoc in the group of Rainer Friedrich. In the award-winning study published in Nature Neuroscience, Thomas investigated how Dp – a brain area in the zebrafish that is homologous to the mammalian olfactory cortex – stores memories. Thomas trained adult zebrafish in an odor discrimination task and measured activity patterns in a subregion of Dp (dpDp) that had not been characterized in detail before. He found that responses to odors of neurons in dpDp were enhanced when the odor was associated with a food reward. He showed that dpDp is a brain region where complex odor information is directly associated with "good" or "bad", that these associations are modified during learning and that they are behaviorally relevant. Thomas also investigated the role of inhibitory neurons and discovered that, quite surprisingly, they make a major contribution to the specificity of the associations. Basically, Thomas revealed a neuronal circuit that gives value to a sensory stimuli, which is an important step towards understanding how we make good decisions.
» Read more about the study 

Original publication:
Thomas Frank, Nila R. Mönig, Chie Satou, Shin-ichi Higashijima and Rainer W. Friedrich (2019) Associative conditioning remaps odor representations and modifies inhibition in a higher olfactory brain area. Nature Neuroscience, Volume 22 Issue 10


Ilya Lukonin was awarded the Chiquet Originality Prize 2020, which recognizes scientists who have successfully ‘thought outside the box’, pursuing truly creative research, obtaining results that are unexpected or against commonly accepted dogma, or inventing a new approach, method or tool that changed their field. The award is named after the late Ruth Chiquet-Ehrismann who was a group leader at the FMI 1985-2015) and was successful at pursuing non-mainstream topics that nonetheless had major biomedical impact.

Ilya, who conducted his PhD in the group of Prisca Liberali and is now a research associate in the FMI Facility for Advanced Imaging and Microscopy, was recognized for developing a unique and innovative assay for high content image-based screening of intestinal organoid development. Ilya used phenotypic fingerprints to identify and characterize a set of 230 genes that influence the phenotypic outcome of intestinal organoid formation and together form the first map of functional interactions in intestinal organoid development. His platform for data-driven phenotype discovery can be applied widely, to many systems, and is currently being used by other groups in and beyond the FMI.

» List of former Fischer/ Burger/ Chiquet prize winners

FMI This year’s winners

FMI Milou Meuse, winner of the Fischer Prize 2020

FMI Thomas Frank, winner of the Burger Prize 2020

FMI Ilya Lukonin, winner of the Chiquet Prize 2020