- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Her research expertise involves molecular genetics of animal behavior, circadian rhythm biology, and posttranslational regulation of proteins.
By using Drosophila melanogaster as a model to study the mechanisms that regulate circadian clocks, Chiu has discovered new insights into the function of key proteins that control animal circadian clocks. In particular, she has identified new mechanisms that slow down or speed up the internal clock of fruit flies and mechanisms that allow the internal clock to interpret food as timing cues--research that could help lead the way to alleviate human circadian disorders.
“Dr. Chiu is a prolific, phenomenal and talented scholar whose research is innovative, cutting-edge and groundbreaking,” said Helene Dillard, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Nematology, describes her as “a rising star.”
In announcing the Chancellor's Fellows, Chancellor Gary S. May said: “They've clearly made a mark both at UC Davis and within the academy generally. I have no doubt their contributions will continue to grow.” Each will retain the title for five years and receive a prize of $25,000 earmarked for research or scholarly work. Private donations to the UC Davis Annual Fund and the UC Davis Parents' Fund finance the program.
Chiu joined the Department of Entomology and Nematology in 2010 as an assistant professor and advanced to associate professor and vice chair in 2016. She received her bachelor's degree in biology and music from Mount Holyoke College, Mass., and her doctorate in molecular genetics in 2004 from New York University, New York. She served as a postdoctoral fellow from 2004 to 2010 in chronobiology (biological rhythms and internal clocks)--molecular genetics and biochemistry--at the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
Major grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation fund Chiu's biological rhythms research.
In addition to her research in biological rhythms, Chiu also aims to leverage her expertise in genomics to address key issues in global food security. She is the principal investigator (PI) or co-PI on six grant awards from the State of California to research various fruit crops damaged by the spotted-wing Drosophila. At the time of her nomination, her publication record included 41 journal publications and book chapters, one U.S. Patent, and more than 3,235 journal citations (Google Scholar).
Chiu targets the spotted wing drosophila, Drosophila suzukii, first detected in North America in central California in August 2008. A native of Southeast Asia, the invasive species has already caused billions of dollars in damage to U.S. agriculture. Chiu took the lead role in sequencing the genome and is now heavily involved in finding new and more sustainable strategies to control the pest.
Chiu instigated the drive to obtain genomic data prior to its adaptation to a variety of local environments, which can differ in climate, pesticide use, natural enemies and types of fruits available. She played a leading role in establishing the SpottedWingFlyBase, a publicly available web portal documenting a variety of genomic databases for this species.
Chiu co-founded and co-directs (with professor Jay Rosenheim and associate professor Louie Yang) the campuswide Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology, launched in 2011 to provide undergraduates with a closely mentored research experience in biology. The program's goal is to provide academically strong and highly motivated undergraduates with a multi-year research experience that cultivates skills that will prepare them for a career in biological research.
Under her tutelage, many of Chiu's students are first authors of publications in prestigious journals. She continues to provide guidance and advice to undergraduate and graduate students and those who have embarked on their careers.
Former UC Davis graduate student Kelly Hamby, now assistant professor/Extension specialist in the Department of Entomology, University of Maryland, said Chiu “is so generous of her time and advice. Her office is always open to students, whether they are visiting high school students, undergraduates, or graduate students, her own students or someone else's. She carefully guides students throughout their experiments, directly providing technical training—side by side at the bench—while developing their critical thinking and communication skills. Joanna not only imparts excellent analytic and laboratory molecular skills to her students, but also commits to providing ongoing professional advice and development. Joanna's mentorship continues long after graduate and she leaves a lasting impression on students.”
“Joanna's teaching philosophy is clearly targeted towards the professional development of her students, modeling assignments on the activities of practicing scientists,” Hamby added.
The previous recipient from the Department of Entomology and Nematology was pollination ecologist Neal Williams, now a professor.
See list of this year's Chancellor's Fellows on UC Davis Dateline.