Research and Life in Japan by a JSPS Fellow (14)
Hailing from South Korea, Dr. Dong-Ha Nam has been doing research under a JSPS postdoctoral fellowship since April 2006 at the United Graduate School of Agricultural Sciences, Ehime University. He first came to Japan in 2003 to go through a doctoral course at the same university. While a graduate student there, he conducted research on environmental chemistry and ecotoxicology under Prof. Shinsuke Tanabe in the Center for Marine Environmental Studies. His current host Prof. Hisato Iwata became acquainted with Dr. Nam at the Center. Impressed with his sincerity and diligence, he decided to host Dr. Nam as a JSPS postdoctoral fellow.
On what are you conducting your research under the JSPS fellowship?
In my research, I am using metallothionein genes to assess the risk of heavy metal contamination in wild avian species. ("Metallothionein" is an amino acid-based protein that transports metals such as copper, zinc, and cadmium within the body.) Certain aquatic birds accumulate high levels of non-essential elements in their tissues and organs without any clinical signs, implying that metallothioneins detoxify heavy metals by binding to them and are thus a possibly effective physiological mechanism in regulating against metal toxicosis. I am attempting to elucidate this mechanism in target avian species.
How did you become interested in this research subject?
From childhood, I have been fascinated with animals, particularly seabirds. When I got to college, I therefore decided to do animal research. I was especially curious as to why birds living in the same environment accumulated different levels of toxins in their bodies. I thought the reason for this may be linked to the function of the protein metallothionein, two types of which are present in each bird. As there had been little work done in this regard, I set myself to the task by undertaking research on wild birds.
Why did you choose Japan or your laboratory to pursue your research?
My host laboratory at Ehime University has a long history of achievements in ecotoxicological research conducted on a global scale. It is also well known for its investigations of target genes that respond to chemical exposure and for elucidating molecular mechanisms that determine species-related sensitivity to chemically induced effects. These merits of the laboratory are what drew me to Japan to pursue my research.
What do you usually do in your off-hours?
I love to play soccer, so I formed the Himata Soccer Team. "Himata" is the name of the field at Ehime University. Being an international team, it has on it more than 50 foreigners from 28 countries. We all live in Matsuyama. I enjoy sharing time with the many friends I have made during soccer practice. Coming from all over the world, they help me enjoy and fulfill my life in Japan. (If you'd like to learn more about the team, please see our webpage:http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/himatasoccer/)
Your Japanese is very good. How did you learn it?
I first began studying Japanese when I entered the doctoral program at Ehime University in 2003. Actually, the only thing I've found difficult about living in Japan has been learning Japanese. The language has a lot of depth to it, so the more I study Japanese, the more difficult I realize that it is to master. I am still taking a course in Japanese and will continue to study it while I remain in Japan.
Do you have any plans for what you will do after your fellowship?
I have not yet decided. However, I have long been concerned about the impact of pollutants on wild birds, including the effect of chemicals on their reproductive biology. I am doing research on the conservation of wintering migrants (especially globally-threatened vultures) in Korea, and over the next year will be working on a separate project in Japan. I am very interested in doing collaborative work on wintering migrants in the future, and would be happy to continue my research career in Japan.
What advice would you give to new postdoctoral fellows?
Quite simply, I would tell them that being able to do research in Japan with the support of the JSPS fellowship is an extremely valuable opportunity, one that they should take maximum advantage of while they are here.
To Past and Present JSPS Fellows:
We are in the process of updating our mailing list. If you have changed your address or would like to add your name to the JSPS Quarterly mailing list, please mail your full name and address (including country) to JSPS Fellows Plaza, 6 Ichibancho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-8471 or fax it to us at +81-3-3263-1854. Please indicate whether you are a current or former JSPS fellow.