JSPS Quarterly
No.45 2013 Autumn

Research and Life in Japan by a JSPS Fellow (27)

Dr. Alena Neviarouskaya
Dr. Ana Eusebio-Cope

Research Assistant, Institute of Plant Science and Resources, Okayama University
Ph.D. (Fungal Virology), Okayama University, Japan, 2010
M.Sc. (Mycology), Okayama University, Japan, 2007
M.Sc. (Plant Disease Resistance), University of the Philippines, 1998
B.Sc. (Plant Pathology), University of the Philippines, 1992

Hailing from the Philippines, Dr. Ana Eusebio-Cope has been conducting research with her host researcher, Dr. Nobuhiro Suzuki, at the Institute of Plant Science and Resources of Okayama University under a JSPS postdoctoral fellowship since September 2011. After obtaining her master’s degree from the University of the Philippines and working as an assistant scientist at the world-renowned International Rice Research Institute, she was selected for a Japanese government scholarship to pursue her doctorate and advance her research at Okayama University.

What are you currently researching under the JSPS fellowship?

Currently, I am working on viruses infecting fungi (mycovirus) focusing on virus genome rearrangement induced by the interplay between a mutated viral segment and mutant fungal hosts.

How did you become interested in your research field?

My research project for my bachelor’s degree was on plant virology but mostly on basic subjects like transmission, characterization and detection of viruses using antibody-based procedures. Right now, my research combines molecular virology and mycology. No matter how diverse and complicated the field of fungal virology, it still involves viruses as the main player which make it more challenging. In addition, fungi as another component of the system captivated my enthusiasm due to their life cycles and the various macro-/microscopic structures (spores, conidiophores, fruiting bodies, mycelia, etc.) they produce. All these things inspired me more to study the interaction between viruses and fungi.

How did you get to know your Japanese host researcher?

A friend of mine referred me to Prof. Nobuhiro Suzuki. At that time, he was recruiting for graduate students to work in his project. That’s when I started to correspond with him, and he said he would accept me in his lab if I qualified for a Japanese Government (Monbukagakusho: MEXT) Scholarship, which luckily I did.

Why did you choose Japan to pursue your research?

Japan is famous for its superior technology and its people are known to be hard working. For me, these two factors were good indicators assuring me that if I pursued my research career in Japan I’d be able to work closely with highly competitive, top scientists of superb quality. I have not regretted my decision. This is now my ninth year of working in the same lab.

What is your impression of your host institution?

The Institute of Plant Science and Resources is a medium-sized institute where people closely interact during meetings and other research-oriented endeavors. The members of the institute are actively engaged in holding social activities in which people like me from other countries can participate. On the research side, the institute is equipped with modern, cutting-edge facilities, which are shared equally by members who want to use them. The institute’s environment is conducive to excellent research, and the faculty and staff create a friendly and harmonious atmosphere for us overseas researchers.

How about the colleagues in your laboratory?

Though the members of the Group of Plant-Microbe Interaction come from diverse cultural backgrounds, we mingle quite well and help each other achieve our research goals. We not only do science in the lab but on special occasions the group goes out to have some fun like partying, hiking, or flower viewing (hanami).

Generally speaking, what is your impression of Japan’s research environment? Is there any difference between Philippines and Japan?

I was working at an international research institution in the Philippines before coming here, so I was already aware of the value of quality work. However, after coming to Japan, I developed a fondness for working even harder and became output-oriented like the other researchers in our lab. I think Japanese researchers are highly competitive; this is primarily due to their “Japanese-way of working,” which luckily I have witnessed firsthand during my stay. To me, it’s awesome!

What have your research achievements been so far?

As mentioned, I am doing research on genome rearrangement. Despite being a common occurrence in members of the family Reoviridae to which Mycoreovirus 1 (virus species which I am studying) belongs, its exact mechanism is still largely unknown. In my research, I am trying to understand the link between this phenomenon and the RNA silencing pathway. So far, I’ve been able to establish differences in the biogenesis of rearranged segments between two RNA-silenced defective fungal strains of Cryphonectria parasitica infected with a mutant virus. The transcription levels of the specific genes in those fungal hosts have given me a possible lead to understanding the frequency and rate at which genome rearrangement occurs in those hosts.

That sounds painstaking. What do you do outside the lab?

I spend time with my husband dining out, shopping, meeting friends, and going to church. The only common time we share is on Sunday afternoons, so we don’t miss a chance to get out of the house.

What do you think of life in Japan—its culture and customs?

Japanese people live a busy life while paying respect and showing appreciation to established norms and culture. They regard culture and customs as their way of life, which is something that never ceases to amaze me. For instance, they find time to celebrate and enjoy traditional events and even wear traditional clothes like “kimonos” during festivals. In the cherry blossom season, they go to do hanami with family members or friends. Gathering under sakura trees, they savor the flowers while enjoying the time to eat, drink and chat together. About life in Japan in general, “convenience,” which is almost everywhere (including transportation, telecommunication, bank service, shops), is the number one thing that any foreigner will miss when leaving this country.

Before coming to Japan, what sort of image did you have of the country? Has your perception changed after coming here?

To be honest I thought that the language would be a great barrier and that it would make it difficult for me to live in Japan. But no, my stay here has really changed that perception, as I haven’t experienced much difficulty. To the contrary, I’ve been helped a lot by the Japanese people.

What do you plan to do after your fellowship ends?

If possible, I prefer to continue my line of research here in Japan or somewhere else that fits my credentials. I hope to work in a research institution that advances high-end quality science.

Please give some advice for young researchers who may be thinking about doing research in Japan.

To anyone who wants to come to Japan to do research, my advice would be “by all means do so”! It will be a lifetime experience, one in which you may be amazed as you work alongside Japanese colleagues who so diligently go about advancing cutting-edge research in this part of the world with all its interesting customs and culture.

Dr. Cope’s cheerful and pleasant personality made our interview with her most enjoyable. She showed us around her institution, where we saw researchers working from all over the world, much state-of-the-art research equipment, and lush agricultural fields outside the building.
    Over the nine years that Dr. Cope has worked with Prof. Suzuki, she has accrued the admiration and trust of the other faculty members. With her tenure as a JSPS fellow ending in September, we look forward to her further research endeavors contributing to crop improvement in not only the Philippines but also where urgently needed in other countries around the world.

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JSPS Quarterly No.45 2013