Acceptance address by Dr. SHINOZAKI Kazuo
Dr. SHINOZAKI Kazuo
I am extremely honored to receive the International Prize for Biology today. It is a tremendous privilege to be recognized alongside the 35 distinguished prizewinners to date, and I am sincerely grateful. I also consider it a great honor that the findings of this research we started 31 years ago have earned international acclaim in the field of Biology of Environmental Responses. I appreciate the support of my many outstanding collaborators that this research have yielded results, and I am delighted to accept the esteemed International Prize for Biology on behalf of everybody involved.
In addition to the award certificate and medal, it is also a special honor to receive a commemorative gift from His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Akishino. This prestigious prize for basic biology commemorates the longstanding commitment to biological research of Emperor Showa and His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus. His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Akishino is also engaged in research on biology. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the Committee on the International Prize for Biology, the selection committee, and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, to whom I owe the privilege of receiving such a highly regarded award. Given the enormous impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic this year, I am extremely grateful to you for holding a ceremony such as this.
The choice of the Biology of Environmental Responses as the research field for this year’s award will shine a light on the study of organisms that face a range of environmental stresses as a result of climate change, and on the environmental stress responses and survival strategies of plants in particular. I would like to pay tribute and express my appreciation to the organizers for this. I consider myself extremely privileged to have received this award as a representative of the research field of environmental responses within the plant science discipline.
I obtained my doctorate for research on molecular biology relating to DNA replication from the Nagoya University graduate school under the tutelage of Professors OKAZAKI Tsuneko and Reiji. I subsequently conducted research on the plant chloroplast genome at the National Institute of Genetics and then Nagoya University under the guidance of Professor SUGIURA Masahiro. These enabled me to master the research methods used for molecular biology and genome research. It was followed by a period as a visiting scientist at the laboratory of Professor Nam-Hai CHUA of the Rockefeller University, where I learned about transcriptional regulation of plants’ nuclear genes. Professor Chua was the 21st recipient of this prize, and my wife and I are extremely indebted to him.
In 1989 I took up a PI position at RIKEN Institute, where I started to research the role of plant genes in environmental stress responses and the regulation of gene expression. This is the research that has been recognized by today’s award. We studied genes that relate to the capacity of plants, which are immobile, to respond to environmental stresses such as drought and acquire tolerance. This enabled us to understand the excellent strategies plants use to respond to changes in their environment and survive. We employed the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana as our research material and used genome function analysis as our research method. As a result we were first in the world to elucidate gene expression associated with environmental stress response in plants, as well as genes that comprise important signal transduction factors. The environmental stress response of plants is regulated via a complex mechanism involving a diverse network of genes, and I personally find the elaborate system regulating plants’ environmental response extremely impressive and elegant.
Building on this research, we collaborated internationally, using actual crops in dry field conditions to test the many genes associated with drought tolerance that we discovered in our basic research using the model plant. As a result of these tests, we learned that the genes we had discovered could be used to create new, drought-tolerant crops. Having demonstrated that the findings of basic science could be applied to produce new findings related to crop breeding, we were hopeful that our work would eventually contribute to society.
My research to date has been the result of the accumulated efforts of my many collaborators. I would like to express my gratitude to all the current and former members of laboratories who have collaborated with me in research. In particular, one person who has been a tremendous help in pursuing research as my collaborator from the earliest stages is my wife, YAMAGUCHI-SHINOZAKI Kazuko, professor emerita of the University of Tokyo. From the time I commenced this research throughout its subsequent development we have discussed a diverse range of topics to move the research forward. I would like to celebrate my receipt of the distinguished International Prize for Biology together with my wife.
Plant diversity plays a key role in shaping Earth’s environment. The environmental stress response of plants is a crucial field of research that can help to solve problems such as climate change and the impending food crisis. I would like the next generation of researchers to further deepen our understanding of how organisms respond and adapt to their environments and to extend this research by adopting new perspectives. I expect the next generation of researchers to take on new challenges and endeavors, and I intend to support them as they pursue those challenges.
In closing, I would like to reiterate how sincerely grateful I am to be awarded the distinguished International Prize for Biology. Thank you very much.
*The presentation ceremony, which is normally held in November or December at the Japan Academy, had to be canceled this year due to the novel coronavirus infection.
Thus, the JSPS President presented the Prize to the recipient at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. The commemorative symposium to be held after the presentation ceremony every year was also canceled.