Secretariat of the International Prize for Biology, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS)

International Prize for biology

31st Presentation Ceremony, Acceptance Address, Selection Process

Presentation Ceremony was held
in the presence of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress
on December 7th

     The recipient of this year:

Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi,
Honorary Professor, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan

On December 7th, a presentation ceremony for the 2015 International Prize for Biology was held at the Japan Academy in the presence of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress, Mr. Koichi Hagiuda, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, and Mr.Hiroshi Hase , Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. At the ceremony, Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi was presented the Prize of ten-million yen and a medal by Dr. Sugimura, Chair of the Committee, along with an Imperial gift from His Majesty the Emperor.

Congratulatory remarks were delivered by Prime Minister Abe (read by Mr. Hagiuda.) and Minister Hase. The ceremony ended with an acceptance address from Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi. Following the ceremony, a reception honoring Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi was held in the presence of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress.

Reception Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi, holding Imperial Gift with his wife



Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi, holding Imperial Gift with his wife

Acceptance Address by Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi

Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi   

Professor Sir Peter Crane FRS

  I am truly honored to receive this prestigious award, the International Prize for Biology, in the presence of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress. In reading a book entitled The Imperial Family and Biological Science, recently published by a former teacher of mine, Dr. Hideo Mohri, I came to appreciate the serious commitment of both Emperor Showa and the present Emperor to their work as biologists, and the extent of their accomplishments. As one who was born in 1945 and whose life has thus coincided with Japan’s postwar era, I am deeply moved to receive an award which commemorates the 60th year of Emperor Showa’s reign. Two of the 30 previous recipients did their work in Japan: Dr. Motoo Kimura and Dr. Setsuro Ebashi, and it is an inspiration indeed to be honored with the same award as two such illustrious predecessors.

  I would like to express my deep gratitude to those who nominated me and to the members of the Selection Committee.

  Whenever I am called on to speak of my career, I have noted the many serendipitous events and encounters that have helped me along the narrow road of the researcher. After studying under Professor Kazutomo Imahori of the College of Arts and Sciences, the University of Tokyo, and pursuing further studies at Kyoto University, the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Agriculture, and the Rockefeller University, I then had the opportunity to do research with Professor Yasuhiro Anraku of the Faculty of Science, the University of Tokyo. Later I was fortunate enough to have my work supported by the College of Arts and Sciences of my alma mater and by the National Institute for Basic Biology, and I am currently enjoying the very favorable research environment provided by the Tokyo Institute of Technology. While it is true that scientific research today is fiercely competitive, I have always been a reluctant competitor and have pursued my research by choosing to do what no one else was doing.

  I became interested in the mechanism of protein degradation in cells, and for 28 years, starting in 1988, I have studied the intracellular degradation mechanism known as autophagy. Living organisms are maintained in equilibrium between constant synthesis and breakdown, but breakdown has always attracted less interest than synthesis, and progress in this area has tended to be slow.

  Using the small cells of yeast, I set about solving the mystery of autophagy by analyzing the gene clusters involved and their functions. Once the genes involved were identified, autophagy research underwent dramatic development, and a series of discoveries have shown autophagy to be involved in various high-order functions of the higher animals and plants and also implicated in various pathologies. That is to say, it has gradually become clear that degradation is no less important than synthesis to vital activities. However, many basic questions still remain to be solved. In the time that remains to me in the laboratory, I want to go back to the basics and ask what exactly autophagy is. I am also very hopeful that further light will be shed on its mechanism in the near future and that our growing understanding of cell biology will enable further progress in research destined to conquer disease and improve health.

  Needless to say, modern biology cannot be pursued by lone researchers. My own work over the course of nearly three decades has been made possible by the tireless efforts of many wonderful colleagues, and I have been extremely fortunate in my collaborators. I should like to express my heartfelt thanks to them all and to share this honor with them.

  I would also like to express my sincere gratitude for the support of my late parents, my wife Mariko, and my family.

  Lastly, a word to the younger generation who will be the biologists of the future: there are unanswered questions all around us, questions that have not even been identified as such. My advice to you is to observe phenomena with your own eyes and an open mind, register your doubts, believe in yourself and press on, without allowing yourself to be swept along by fashions or outside pressures, toward discoveries of the logic of life.

  I intend to do what I can, in the years I still have, to help improve the situation of researchers who, these days, face pressures to produce results with maximum efficiency and even haste, and to realize an environment in which one can do research that is deeply fulfilling, inspired by love for living things, love of nature, and love for one’s fellows.

  Thank you, again, for the honor you have bestowed on me today.


Report on the Process of Selection

Dr. Yoshinori Fujiyoshi   
Chair, Selection Committee on the International Prize for Biology   

Dr. Yoshinori Fujiyoshi, Chairman

  Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

  On behalf of the Selection Committee for the 31st International Prize for Biology, it gives me great pleasure to report on this year’s selection process.

  The Selection Committee consisted of twenty members, including myself. Four of our members were overseas researchers who were specially commissioned to serve on the Committee.

  The field of specialization chosen for this year’s prize was cell biology. The Committee distributed a total of 1,287 recommendation forms to Japanese and foreign universities, research centers, academic associations, individual researchers, and international academic organizations involved in this field of biology, and received a total of 63 recommendations in response. As some of these recommendations named the same individuals, the actual number of individuals recommended was 48, from 18 countries throughout the world.

  The Selection Committee met a total of four times and very carefully reviewed all the candidates. Ultimately, the Committee decided to recommend Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi of Japan to the Prize Committee as the recipient of the 31st International Prize for Biology.

  After obtaining the degree of Doctor of Science from the University of Tokyo, Dr. Ohsumi took up a postdoctoral fellowship at the Rockefeller University in the United States, then served as assistant professor at the University of Tokyo before holding a professorship at the National Institute for Basic Biology. He is currently an honorary professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

  Dr. Ohsumi identified multiple autophagy-related genes (ATG) in yeast and elucidated the mechanism by which their action leads to autophagy, or the self-digestion function in cells. This work brought about a transformation of autophagy research. Dr. Ohsumi also showed the mechanism to be an important general life phenomenon widely conserved in the biological world, and in doing so he established a new field of cell biology research. The developments we see today in autophagy studies would never have been possible without Dr. Ohsumi’s work, and his distinguished services to the field are acknowledged worldwide.

  In making our selection, the major criteria used by the Selection Committee were the originality of the candidate’s research, its influence on the selected field of biology, and its contribution to advancing progress in biological science as a whole. We found Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi’s work to more than amply satisfy every one of these criteria and, on this basis, we judged him to be the most highly suited candidate to receive this year’s International Prize for Biology.

  The Committee on the International Prize for Biology accepted our recommendation of Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi and has bestowed upon him the 31st International Prize for Biology.

  With this, I conclude my report on the process of selection.