Applied Biology

Fostering Human Resources Who Can Enrich Lives through Biotechnology

Biotechnology plays a significant role in society today. The large gap between living organism-related utilitarian academic fields, such as agriculture, medicine and pharmacy, and fundamental biology is being rapidly closed by biotechnology, which is showing great development. Making full use of biotechnology, we not only analyze life phenomena, but also realize new technologies, thereby contributing to the betterment of people’s lives.

Educational Program

Educational and Research Objectives
1. Analyzing life phenomena of vertebrate animals, insects, plants, microbes, and other living organisms at the level of individuals and cells, we strive to develop and create new functional molecules. In addition, we are also engaged in research on the preservation of the biological environment and the development of biological productivity.
2. We analyze life phenomena of biological molecules, genes, cells and other structures at the molecular level and artificially control them with technology. Moreover, we also apply such technology to agriculture, medicine, and pharmacy and analyze fundamental life phenomena (proliferation, development, differentiation, information, signals and more).

Educational and Research Fields
In the educational and research fields of insect biotechnology, insect physiology and function, cell signaling and engineering, functional cell biology, neuroscience, and applied genomics, as well as in the educational and research fields of applied entomology and applied botany of the Department of Biosource Field Sciences of the Advanced Insect Research Promotion Center, we specialize mainly in discovery of novel functions, improvement of functions, development of control technology, and elucidation and use of interactions between/among living things and the environment. We are also engaged in research on the preservation of the biological environment and the development of biological production. By doing so, we utilize the production functions of living things (insects, vertebrate animals, and plants).

In the educational and research fields of microbial technology, cell molecular engineering, chromosome engineering, structural biology, plant science and molecular engineering, and the science of human performance, as well as in the educational and research fields of evolutionary genomics of the Department of Drosophila Genomics and Genetic Resources of the Advanced Insect Research Promotion Center, and of insect biomedical science of the Department of Insect Biomedical Research of the Advanced Insect Research Promotion Center, we specialize mainly in development and application of technology for artificially controlling living things (microbes, insects, vertebrate animals and plants) and their components (genes, proteins and biomolecules). Beyond applications to agriculture, medicine, and pharmacy, we analyze fundamental life phenomena, such as proliferation, development, differentiation, information, and signals, at the levels of molecules and cells. In this program, graduate students disseminate their research results to society by giving presentations at academic conferences and publishing academic papers. Excellent research obtains awards or appears in prestigious science journals.

Laboratory Information

Cell Signaling and Engineering Functional Cell Biology
Small compounds produced by microorganisms and plants possess a wide range of physiological activities and are important as active components of pharmaceuticals and functional foods, as well as bioprobes in life sciences research. This field is concerned with analyzing molecular mechanisms through chemical biological methods using key small compounds and molecular and cell biology methods. Specifically, we are working to clarify the molecular mechanisms of complex signal transduction and cellular responses in animal cells, such as those of humans and mice, with the goal of contributing to the treatment and prevention of cancers, lifestyle-related diseases, and inflammatory diseases. We also analyze and apply research on lytic granule function, special organelles in cytotoxic T-cells, and natural-killer cells, which destroy cancer cells and virus-infected cells.

Research themes: Molecular mechanisms of signal transduction and cell function in animal cells
Keywords: Inflammation/Bioprobe/Signal transduction
A human body consists of more than 37 trillion cells with many different functions. Among them, nerve cells and endocrine cells use neurotransmitters and hormones as signals, regulating and maintaining various biological activities. The aim of our laboratory is to elucidate the regulatory mechanisms of cell functions in the nervous and endocrine systems, with a view to responding to social demands for medical treatment of related diseases, mainly targeting mammals. So, we study the innervation of the gastrointestinal tract, and the functions of receptors and channels of neurons and endocrine cells, using techniques such as immunohistochemistry, electron microscopy, cell culture, and gene and protein analysis.

Research themes: Innervation of the mammalian digestive tract, and intercellular communication mechanism in animal cells
Keywords: Immunohistochemistry/Nerve tracer/Cell culture/Gap junction-related molecules
Applied Microbiology Plant Science and Molecular Engineering
By connecting our knowledge of microbial metabolism and physiology with the production of valuable materials and the protection of the environment, we seek to improve quality of life. Specifically we study: 1) bacterial metabolism and regulation of glutathione which acts as a reducing agent and an antidote for biological cells, and of polyamines that are necessary for the active growth of cells, 2) the breeding of microorganisms necessary for the efficient production of materials from renewable biomass, 3) the improvement of taste using microbial enzymes; and 4) the stress-resistant mechanism of yeast. We provide a broad spectrum of training from basic to applied research.

Research themes: Basic and applied studies on microbial catabolism and environmental response
Keywords: Metabolic control/Bioconversion/Stress response
Plants are essential to all organisms on earth. Plants have been used as foods, and are now available as a material for biofuels and bioplastics. Plant-derived fuel and plastics have the potential to mitigate global environmental problems. Researchers in this field are studying various plant functions from biochemical, biomolecular, physiological, and ecological points of view.
Because plants are not able to move to another place after germination, their ability to adapt to their environment determines whether they can survive in any given environment. Photosynthesis is an important function of plants, and is known to have a high plasticity to adapt to given environments. We are focusing on the carbon dioxide absorption process during photosynthesis, and studying how the internal structure of leaves, and proteins in leaves, are involved in the transport of carbon dioxide.

Research themes: Physiology and molecular biology on the mechanisms of plant tolerance to environmental stresses
Keywords: Drought/Pathogen/Defense mechanisms/Plant/Gene
Neuroscience Human Performance
The complexity of the brain is due to not only a huge number of neurons and complicated nervous networks but also to the variety of neurotransmitters regulating nerve activity, growth factors, and extracellular matrix environments. Recent studies have indicated that neurogenesis and angiogenesis occur in adult mammalian brains, suggesting that the brain has more plastic and complicated feature than initially considered. Our laboratory focuses on the analysis of brain function using mammalian brains. We are studying; 1) the physiological significance of neurogenesis and angiogenesis in the circumventricular organs in the adult mammalian brain, 2) how the brain senses inflammatory signals in the blood stream and transmits that information to brain neural circuits via Toll-like receptors after bacterial infection, (3) how the brain controls body temperature via the transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily during normal and inflammatory conditions.

Research themes: Central mechanism of body homeostasis by brain stem
Keywords: Brain stem/Neural stem cell/TRP/TLRs/Microglia
We study human physiology. Humans move their bodies to exercise and to accomplish nearly every task they engage in. We are measuring and assessing human performance using methods from physiological, bio-mechanical, and psychological disciplines to explore the mechanisms and functions of human bodies through statistical analyses. We comprehensively study the mysteries and miracles of human performance from three perspectives: physiological function (e.g. skeletal structure, muscular structure, and nerves); functions that control performance (e.g. nerve-muscle function, respiratory and circulatory function, and motor learning abilities); and the environmental conditions related to performance (motor factors, internal factors, mental factors, and social factors).

Research themes: Test, measurement, and evaluation in human movement and performance
Keywords: Human/Test and measurement/Applied biomechanics/Cognitive science/Kinesiology
Structural Biology Insect Biotechnology
Protein is a biopolymer that plays a critical role in living systems. The main objective of our group is to determine the three-dimensional structure of proteins using X-ray analysis to understand the structure and functional mechanisms of these proteins at the molecular-level. At the same time, we conduct applied research to design drugs based on our knowledge of the three-dimensional structure of proteins. To this end, our group studies the proteins of Trypanosoma – a protozoan parasite that causes Chagas disease in South America and sleeping sickness in Africa. We also study proteins of the intestinal parasite, Entamoeba histolytica – the causative agent of amoebiasis; and the apicomplexan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, which causes toxoplasmosis. Our goal is to characterize the three-dimensional structure of the proteins essential for the survival, growth and proliferation of these parasites, and to identify inhibitors of these proteins, based on their three-dimensional structures, which can be further developed into anti-parasitic agents to combat these human and veterinary pathogens.

Research themes: Structural biological studies of proteins essential for the survival of parasites and bacteria
Keywords: Parasite/X-ray crystal structure analysis/Drug design
This field focuses on biotechnologies which make use of the biological functions of silkworms and other insects. Among other topics, we conduct structural analysis of polyhedra, the protein inclusion bodies of insect viruses, to clarify their crystallization and dissolution mechanisms and their protein encapsulation mechanisms. Using the knowledge we gain, we are developing technologies to control the differentiation and proliferation of mammalian cells using polyhedra in which cell growth factors are encapsulated, to contribute to the field of regenerative medicine. We are also developing transgenic technologies to artificially recombine the chromosomal genes of silkworms to develop silk with new functions and to create silkworms with advanced protein production abilities. Furthermore, we are carrying out fundamental research on red flour beetles by using systemic RNAi techniques to find new physiological systems with practical applications.

Research themes: Bioengineering of insect and insect virus
Keywords: Bombyx mori/Transgenesis/Baculovirus/ Polyhedra/Protein expression
Insect Physiology and Function Chromosome Engineering
Insects have evolved into a variety of organisms by adapting their lifecycles to various natural environments. They prosper on the earth today. We focus on the adaptability of insects to the environment and aim to elucidate various physiological functions lurking in their survival strategies. In our research, we are working to elucidate the biosynthetic mechanism of pigments related to the expression of phytophagous larval color and the physiological functions of pigment-binding protein, the recycling system of larval cuticle proteins during the metamorphosis from larvae to pupae, and its molecular mechanism. We are also studying the molecular cascade for insect sperm maturation, and are developing a novel Cell-Free Protein Synthesizing System using a silk gland extract.

Research themes: Elucidation and application of the physiological function hidden in various survival strategies of insects
Keywords: Insect resources/Physiological function/Color related molecules/Posttesticular maturation of the insect sperm cells/Cell-free protein synthesizing system
In this laboratory, we are studying the regulatory mechanisms of gene replication and gene expression using a model highly suited to genetic and developmental engineering studies, the fruit fly, Drosophila. We examine the relationship between changes in chromosome structures and the regulation of gene replication and gene expression. We are developing Drosophila models for human diseases by establishing transgenic flies which carry human disease-causing genes. This enables us to conduct such applied research such as the screening of candidate pharmaceuticals using these fly models.
Many transcribed mRNAs are translated and function as proteins. Conventionally, in targeting intracellular localization of proteins, mRNA was translated into proteins before it was transported to the target destination in cells. Recent studies, however, are revealing the importance of transporting mRNA to areas where it should function as protein before translation. We are using cultured Drosophila cells and embryos to clarify the mRNA transportation and localization mechanisms.
Insect Physiology and Function

Research themes: Development of Drosophila models of human diseases and analysis of mRNA subcellular localization
Keywords: Drosophila/Diseases/mRNA subcellular localization
Applied Genomics Department of Bioresource Field Science Applied Entomology
Biology has been subdivided into narrower and narrower specialties over the past several centuries. However, various disciplines of life science are reversing toward integration under the genetic and genome-based perspective. The understanding of life is being accelerated by great success in human and other genome bioinformatics. The central purpose of the lab of Applied Genomics, is the study of the genetic system of eukaryotes and its application, for example, to control genetically modified organisms and preserve of wildlife. Our recent research targets are (1) control mechanisms of transposable elements (transposons) and their biological significance, (2) origin and maintenance mechanisms of genetic diversity, (3) genetic systems involved in sexual dimorphism and morphogenesis, and (4) epigenetic regulation (gene control mechanisms that do not affect the primary DNA sequences). We mainly use the silkworm and the fruit fly as source material organisms.

Research themes: Eukaryotic genome plasticity and transcriptional regulation in morphogenesis
Keywords: Transposons/Hybrid sterility-related genes/Sperm storage/Telomere
A better understanding of the “interspecies interactions” that underpin biodiversity is necessary to enable the sustainable use of biological resources. We aim to develop environment-friendly pest control techniques using semiochemicals by elucidating inter- and intra-specific interactions in insects and plants. We also work to elucidate the control mechanisims of various social behaviours, as well as interspecific interactions, of eusocial insects: ants and termites, by applying microanalysis techniques combined with biological behavioral assay systems.

Research themes: Chemoecological studies on social insects, as well as on interspecific interactions between insects and plants
Keywords: Pest management/Eusocial insects/Chemical communication/Useful biological agents
Department of Bioresource Field Science
Applied Botany
Department of Drosophila Genomics and Genetic Resources
Evolutionary Genomics
We have grown many kinds of edible, industrial, and forage plants and studied their morphological, physiological, and ecological features. Our current research focuses on revealing the effects of various environmentally friendly agricultural techniques on soil properties and crop growth under field conditions.

Research themes: Agroecology of economic plants, Recycling plant production
Keywords: Material cycle/Yield components/Weed control
Understanding the fundamental mechanisms underlying developmental robustness and evolvability, capability to adapt to new environments and selection, is central to our research. Although superficially antagonistic, these two are the key characteristics of living organisms and would have determined the sustainability of life. On the other hand, such “robust” system might be disrupted by mutation, environmental factor, and aging, and eventually cause illness. Therefore, we are also interested in cause and process of illness. To this end, we use the power of genetics and molecular cell biology on one hand and theoretical and computer simulation approaches in the framework of population genetics on the other.

Research themes: Functional and evolutionary genomics
Keywords: Spermatogenesis/Human ultra-conserved elements/Mating behavior/Speciation/Rare disease/Neuronal degradation/Aging
Department of Insect Biomedical Research
Biomedical and Developmental Biology
Genes responsible for various types of cancer are often involved in cell division and signal transduction. Thus, to understand the pathogenic mechanisms of these diseases, we study fundamental aspects of cell division using Drosophila, one of the most useful animals for genetic analyses. We have established a new multicolor imaging system using the latest analytical technologies of cell biology (see photos). Using the system, we are currently investigating why abnormal cell divisions increase with cancer progression and ageing. In addition, we are also identifying natural products and chemical compounds with anti-cancer effects using our insect models, in collaboration with other domestic and overseas universities and food companies.

Research themes: Studies on developmental aspects related to cell division and cancer in Drosophila
Keywords: Cell cycle & cell division/Hematopoietic tumors/Ageing/Innate immunity