Biotechnology

appliedbiology1To create a global environment rich in biodiversity and a society supportive of such a global environment, this program harnesses biotechnology closely linked to genome research, thereby developing cutting-edge technologies. These technologies will contribute to the understanding of the essence of biological phenomena and the improvement of the environment and human health. While helping students deepen their knowledge of such fundamental subjects as biology, chemistry, and physics, the program also develops students’ sensitivity to life and nature, increases their interest in various natural phenomena, and enhances their curiosity and observation skills, so that they can continue with untiring devotion, to study various life phenomena that have yet to be explained.
Biotechnology has played a significant role in modern society. Specifically, biotechnology has quickly filled the enormous gap that existed between such life-related practical sciences as agriculture, medicine, and pharmacy, and basic biology. Today, these two categories of sciences are advancing hand-in-hand in an interactive manner.

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Laboratory Information

Cell Signaling and Engineering laboratory Functional Cell Biology laboratory
Small molecule compounds produced by bacteria or plants are characterized by various physiological activities and play important roles not only as medicines or functional foods but also as bioprobes. We conduct biomolecular function analyses using the research procedures of chemical biology to focus on small molecule compounds, in addition to research procedures based on molecular biology and cellular biology. In particular, in order to contribute to the treatment and prevention of cancers, lifestyle-related diseases, and inflammatory diseases, we study the mechanisms of complex signal transduction and cellular response using mammalian cells, including human and mouse cells. In addition, we are involved in functional analysis and applied research regarding cytotoxic granules, special organelles localized in cytotoxic T and natural killer cells that attack cancer cells and viruses. The human body has more than 10 billion neurons, which form complex circuits to fulfill various functions. However, studies of the relationship between neurons and target cells have been insufficient, and the increased social demand caused by the aging of the society, as well as the emergence of regenerative medicine, underscores the necessity of further research. We use such methods as cell culture, cytochemistry, and electron microscopy to perform three-dimensional image analysis of the receptors and cytoskeleton involved in neuronal morphological differentiation, investigate cellular proliferation in the pancreas and liver under conditions of neurogenic obesity, study innervation of the gastrointestinal tract, and carry out structural analysis of gap junctions. We implement extensive research projects covering not only mammals but also invertebrates such as insects, in fields ranging from regenerative medicine of the pancreas and liver to the development of novel methods of insect pest control.
Applied Microbiology laboratory Plant Science and Molecular Engineering laboratory
We perform basic research into microbial metabolism and physiology, followed by applied research for further production of useful substances and environmental protection, with the goal of enriching people’s lives and improving comfort and convenience. In particular, our studies cover the following four themes: (1) bacterial metabolic mechanisms (metabolic regulation) of glutathione, in its role as a reductant and detoxicant in living cells, and polyamine, which is essential for active cell growth, (2) breeding of microorganisms needed for efficient production of substances using renewable biomass, (3) improvement of palatability by bacteria, and (4) stress tolerance mechanisms of yeast. We aim to nurture competent specialists with a broad understanding of the field, from the basic concepts to the outcomes of applied research. Plants are essential for all living organisms on Earth. In addition to being an important source of food, these days they have another valuable role as sources of biofuel and bioplastic, which may help resolve global environmental issues. We study various plant functions at the biochemical and molecular biological levels, as well as at the ecophysiological level. Since plants are rooted, how they adapt themselves to their environment is the key to their survival. Notably, it has been reported that the mechanism of photosynthesis, an essential function of plants, can change flexibly based on the environment. We focus on the process whereby carbon dioxide is absorbed by plants during photosynthesis, researching how the internal structure and internal proteins of the leaf are associated with the transport of carbon dioxide. Plants protect themselves from insect pests and fungi by producing insecticidal proteins and antifungal constituents, in other words, environmentally friendly natural agrochemicals. Our aim is to identify novel protective substances produced by plants and study their functional mechanisms for agricultural application.
Molecular Cell Biotechnology laboratory Neuroscience laboratory
The twenty-first century has been called “the century of the environment.” It is critical to study the effects of atmospheric variations and global warming on life and biological defense systems and to develop novel prophylaxis and treatment of lifestyle-related and chronic diseases in order to ensure the sustainability of our lives. We aim to elucidate the mechanism of regulation of gene expression that enables a series of molecules essential for sustaining life to function normally. In particular, we focus on essential metals and enzymes and the relationship between the regulation of their gene expression and cellular functional changes. We also investigate control mechanisms of signal transduction in intracellular response to infections and oxidative stresses, as well as intermolecular interactions associated with changes in gene expression and protein kinetics caused by aberrations in said mechanisms. In addition, we evaluate the relationship between the onset of dominantly inherited disorders and gene mutations by studying their connection with variations in the related molecules. Furthermore, we perform analyses of clinical data in order to assess the role of molecules involved in prevention of viral infections in natural immunity, as well as tolerance to antiviral agents and viral genomic variation. The brain is the last “big mystery” in biology. This mystery is attributed not only to the huge number of neurons and complex network structures, but also to the diversity of other components such as neurotransmitters, nutritional factors, extracellular matrix environments, and glial cells. We perform comprehensive studies of the mechanisms that regulate mammalian brain function, from the molecular level to the macro level. Our research themes include (1) hypothalamic pituitary regulation in the olfactory system and stress response, (2) thermal control mechanisms in the brain, (3) structural plasticity of hypothalamic vasopressin neurons, and (4) the regulation of the brain’s critical periods and neuroplasticity by chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan.
Human Performance laboratory Structural Biology laboratory
This field covers various other topics related to the human body, which are at the core of human performance, functional mechanisms regulating performance, and environments related to performance. Our studies focus on muscular and skeletal functions, including the locomotor system, the neuronal function regulating locomotion, the cardiorespiratory function supplying the energy for motion, and the function of adaptation to the motion environment. Human performance is evaluated via video and dynamic analysis of exercise and daily activities, measurement and estimation of growth, development, and aging of physical resources and exercise capability, and comparison between human-oriented perception and objective values. We focus primarily on human performance, but also venture into behavioral analysis of insects and mammals. Proteins are biological macromolecules that play a primary role in living organisms. We study the three-dimensional (3D) structure of proteins using X-ray analysis to elucidate their functional mechanisms at a molecular level. At the same time, we are involved in applied research on drug design based on 3D structures of protein. Our research covers the proteins of trypanosomes that cause Chagas disease in South America and sleeping sickness in Africa, Entamoeba histolytica, and Toxoplasma gondii. After determining the 3D structures of proteins essential for the survival of these parasites, we aim to develop a theoretical basis for anti-parasite medicines that will inhibit these essential proteins.
Insect Biotechnology laboratory Chromosome Engineering laboratory
We are engaged in education and research covering biotechnologies that utilize the biological functions of insect viruses and silkworms. One of our activities is the structural analysis of polyhedra, inclusion body proteins of insect viruses. We have identified the mechanisms of crystallization and dissociation of polyhedra and protein immobilization into polyhedra. Based on this knowledge, we are developing technologies that control mammalian cell differentiation and proliferation by using growth factor immobilized on polyhedra, aiming to aid the regenerative medicine. In addition, we are developing transgenic technologies by artificially manipulating chromosomal genes in an individual silkworm in order to obtain silk fibers with better characteristics and transgenic silkworms with superior protein productivity. We use Drosophila (the vinegar fly) as an animal model where genetic and developmental engineering technologies can easily be applied, to research the mechanisms of gene replication and regulation of gene expression. We also study the relationship between changes in chromosomal structure and gene replication and regulation of gene expression. In addition, we have produced transgenic Drosophila containing a human gene and use them in applied research into disease pathogenesis and therapeutic drug screening. The majority of transcribed mRNA are translated into functional proteins. Regarding the intracellular localization of protein, it was previously thought that protein is transported to its target site after the translation is complete. Recent studies, however, have demonstrated the importance of mRNA transfer to the functional site before protein translation. We aim to elucidate the mechanism of mRNA transfer using cell cultures from Drosophila.
Insect Physiology and Function laboratory Applied Genomics laboratory
The number of insects on Earth is very vast, and they represent a diversity of life forms that have evolved by adapting their life cycles to various natural environments. We focus on the insects’ capacity to adapt to their surroundings in order to elucidate the mechanisms of various physiological functions underlying their survival strategies. We study the biosynthesis of pigments associated with color expression and the physiological mechanisms involving pigment-binding protein in the phytophagous larva, as well as the molecular mechanism of recycling of larval cuticular proteins during metamorphosis from larva to pupa. In addition, we are engaged in assessment of natural immunity in germ-free silkworms, investigation of the mechanism of the sperm maturation cascade in silkworms, and establishment of a cell-free protein synthesis system using tissue extract from the silk gland of the silkworm. Genome sequencing has been performed for humans and a lot of animal species, and the process continues. Until recently, each field of biological research was narrowly focused on its specialized areas; however, they are now integrating based on the viewpoint of “the gene” and “the genome”, leading to a significant expansion of our knowledge of life. By sequencing the genome of insects such as the silkworm and Drosophila (the vinegar fly), we study (1) the mechanisms of generation and maintenance of genetic diversity, (2) the intergenic functional network, and (3) the mechanism and effects of horizontal gene transfer. We collaborate with intra- and extramural research partners, aiming to achieve outcomes that will be applicable in novel technologies of genetically modified organism production, as well as in sustaining biodiversity.
Applied Entomology laboratory Applied Botany laboratory
In order to exist, all living organisms interact in various forms both at the intraspecies and the interspecies levels. These interactions can be categorized into prey/predator, parasitic/commensal, gender, cooperative/exclusive relationships within the group, and so forth. We use the following two technological approaches to elucidate the functional mechanisms of interspecies interactions that influence individual physiology and behavior, with the aim of establishing and commercializing novel technologies based on our research outcomes. The first is the chemical ecology approach, in which intraspecies or interspecies information exchange strategies in various insects, including the ant, termite, cricket, and reduviid, as well as the reproductive/chemical strategies of plants requiring insect pollination, are evaluated using behavioral assessment and microanalysis. We expect that the outcomes of our research will lead to the development of novel behavioral control technologies for insect pest control and utilization of beneficial insects. Our second approach uses the silkworm and its dietary plant, mulberry, as biological resources to perform educational research, primarily focusing on functional investigation of the biological products and their practical application. These research outcomes should contribute to the sustainability of the natural environment and biological diversity, food safety via systematic insect pest control, development and commercialization of novel industrial technologies, and education in the field of biological production. Our research facility is located on the Saga campus with its rich natural environment. We study plant ecophysiology and cultivation management, growing useful dietary, industrial, and forage crops in our large agricultural field. In order to solve the food and energy resource issues that humanity is now facing, there is a need make crop cultivation and utilization sustainable, avoiding the excessive use of chemical fertilizers and agrochemicals or environmental problems like soil degradation. Based on the above, our research themes include the relationship between crop cultivation and the soil ecosystem, material cycles in the agroecosystem, soil assessment based on crop and weed vegetation, and crop cultivation methods that use previously untapped natural resources.
Evolutionary Genomics laboratory Biomedical and Developmental Biology laboratory
The systems of living organisms must be robust as well as accurate. Even when genetic conditions are in some way aggravated or flawed, the genome contains systems that can keep functioning despite minor faults. On the other hand, life has never stopped evolving. It has an evolutionary capability to adapt itself to the environment. Our research takes advantage of both “wet examination” using genetics and molecular and cellular biology and “dry analysis” using theoretical biology, including population-genetic analysis and computer simulations, in order to elucidate the genetic and cellular functional mechanisms that maintain the seemingly contradictory phenomena of robustness and adaptation of life. Quite a few genes responsible for diseases like cancer or diabetes mellitus are associated with cell division and regulation of cell growth. For this reason, in order to understand the pathogenic mechanisms of these diseases we investigate the formation and breakdown of the nuclear membrane, chromosome and organelle partitioning, and cytoplasmic division with novel cell biological analysis methods using Drosophila (the vinegar fly) as an experimental model suitable for genetic investigation. In addition, we study the regulatory factors involved in insulin signal transduction and are engaged in an interuniversity collaboration for molecular analysis of gene functions associated with biological aging in order to identify anti-aging substances. Based on our research outcomes with insect models, our aim is to contribute to understanding of the pathogenic mechanisms of human diseases.