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International Prize for biology

An Address by His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Akishino
for the 36th International Prize for Biology

December 16, 2020

This year marks the 36th anniversary of the establishment of this ‘International Prize for Biology’ in 1985 to commemorate the sixty-year reign of Emperor Showa by honoring His Majesty for his long devotion to biology. The prize has subsequently also honored the research pursued by His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus. I would like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to Doctor SHINOZAKI Kazuo, Senior Advisor of the Center for Sustainable Resource Science at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research, RIKEN, the recipient of the 36th International Prize for Biology.

This year’s prize is awarded in the field of ‘Biology of Environmental Responses’. Doctor Shinozaki has been an eminent leader in the field of plant responses to environmental stresses such as drought, low temperature, and high salinity. He has been a global pioneer in using the techniques of molecular biology to elucidate the mechanisms by which plants acquire tolerance to and respond to environmental stresses.

Using Arabidopsis thaliana as a model plant, Doctor Shinozaki has discovered a number of genes that are expressed in response to environmental changes, such as water shortage, high or low temperature, and high salinity, which impose tremendous stress on plants, and he has also elucidated the regulatory mechanisms of those processes. Particularly with regard to drought stress, Doctor Shinozaki has shown that a regulatory mechanism independent of abscisic acid (ABA) exists, separate from the previously known ABA-dependent pathway systems, such as the system that regulates stomatal closure to inhibit evaporative transpiration from the leaves. Furthermore, he has discovered a new drought stress signaling mechanism by identifying a long-distance messenger of stress signals from roots to leaves.

Doctor Shinozaki is also carrying out joint research in which he is applying genes related to environmental stress tolerance discovered in Arabidopsis thaliana to develop crops tolerant to drought stress. Strengthened drought tolerance and increased crop yields have been demonstrated in collaboration with overseas laboratories through actual field cultivation of transgenic rice and soybeans into which drought-tolerant Arabidopsis thaliana genes have been introduced.

Doctor Shinozaki’s research and his findings constitute some of the important cornerstones of the biology of environmental responses. Their applications can also be said to be of great value, and are expected to make a major contribution to overcoming global food crises, which are a matter of concern for the future as climate change proceeds.

Doctor Shinozaki’s research has led to important advances in basic plant science. This is entirely due to his many achievements as a researcher. I would like to take this opportunity to pay my deepest respects to Doctor Shinozaki.

In concluding my congratulatory address, I hope for the continued advance of Doctor Shinozaki’s research, enabling deeper progress in the study of biology as a whole.