JSPS Quarterly
No.56 2016 Summer

Research and Life in Japan by a JSPS Fellow (38)

Dr. Ndubuisi Samuel Machebe
Dr. Ndubuisi Samuel Machebe

Cloning of Domestic Animals

JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow, Kindai University, 2014-present
Lecturer, University of Nigeria, Nigeria, 2005-present
Ph.D. (Animal Reproductive Physiology), University of Nigeria, Nigeria, 2010

Hailing from Nigeria, Dr. Machebe is conducting research with his host professor Dr. Yoko Kato at Kindai University under a JSPS Postdoctoral Fellowship. We asked him to tell us about his research and life in Japan.

Q: What are you currently researching under your JSPS fellowship?

My current research conducted in the Laboratory of Animal Reproduction at Kindai University is centered on the production of porcine cloned preimplantation embryos. I am investigating somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) using stem cells as the nuclear donor cells.

Q: When and how did you decide upon your research subject?

I became interested in my research subject in 2007 when I was still conducting my PhD research with pigs in the Department of Animal Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. My research goal was to improve the reproductive efficiency of female pigs by altering the energy and protein contents in their feed ration. I chose the pig as my model animal because I was convinced that any improvement in their reproductive potential could not only boost the supply of animal protein to many households in Nigeria and other developing countries but also expand employment opportunities for young people in these countries. The pig is a highly prolific domestic farm animal with a short generation interval and efficient carcass yield.

That year, I read about the pioneering work advanced by Dr. Shinya Yamanaka and his colleagues, reported in 2006. These researchers successfully reprogrammed adult cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. With that impetus, I became very interested in porcine iPS cell research because of its tremendous potential for numerous applications in agriculture, medicine and biotechnology.

Q: How did you get to know your Japanese host researcher?

I first learned about my Japanese host researcher, Prof. Yoko Kato, when searching the Internet for Japanese professors who might host me as a postdoctoral fellow. In that process, I found that Prof. Kato and her research team at Kindai University had produced the first cloned calf using a SCNT method in 1998. That greatly stimulated my interest and desire to conduct my postdoctoral research in her laboratory.

I was lucky to have two colleagues from Nigeria conducting research in the same department as Prof. Kato. They highly recommended me to her laboratory for a postdoctoral fellowship. With their support, Prof. Kato and I immediately initiated the application process for a JSPS fellowship.

Q: Did you have any other reasons for choosing Japan to pursue your research?

My dream and desire as a scientist has always been to make meaningful scientific contributions in response to the numerous unanswered questions that I come across when studying textbooks on animal physiology. In pursuing this quest, I have always desired to work with the best and most well-known researchers in the world irrespective of the location of their laboratories on the globe. I saw the light and made my choice of Japan when I found out about the pioneering work on iPS cells and the production of the first cloned bovine animals done by Japanese researchers. That greatly stimulated my interest and desire to carry out my research at a laboratory in Japan.

Also, Kindai University is well known as an excellent institution of higher learning where a sound education can be acquired by both Japanese and overseas students. The university boasts a high level of expertise and facilities in many fields of science and technology, including agriculture.

Dr. Ndubuisi

Q: What have you achieved so far under your JSPS fellowship?

My research achievements have included the successful production of cloned porcine embryos using porcine iPS cells and fibroblast cells as nuclei donors. Based on my findings, I observed that there is no difference between the in-vitro development rate of porcine cloned embryos produced by somatic cell nuclear transfer with fibroblast cells and that when iPS cells are used as nuclei donor cells. This research work has already been completed and was presented at the First International Symposium on the Future of Nuclear Transfer and Nuclear Reprogramming, held on 10 March 2016 at Yamanashi University, Japan.

In another experiment, I evaluated the impact of pre-exposure before fusion and activation of nuclear transferred oocytes to a plant extract called phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) on the developmental efficiency of porcine cloned embryos. I found that the developmental competence of porcine cloned embryos could be enhanced by incubation in PHA for five minutes prior to fusion and activation. That research has also been concluded and the findings presented at the 121st Meeting of the Japanese Society of Animal Science (JSAS), held 27-30 March 2016 at Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University in Tokyo. I am happy to mention that I am now a registered member of JSAS and the Japan Society for Research and Development (JSRD).

Q: What do you think of life in Japan-its culture and customs?

Life in Japan is to me a blend of tradition and modern lifestyles. I honestly find it difficult sometimes to fully comprehend the underlying essence of some of the culture and customs practiced by the Japanese, such as wearing kimono, using ohashi (chopsticks), performing the tea ceremony, and holding festivals to local gods amidst Japan’s modern setting and lifestyle. All the same, I realized that these cultural practices and traditions are what give the Japanese a happy, polite, peaceful, gentle, and accommodating way of living.

Q: May we ask what you plan to do after your fellowship ends?

My simple answer is “continue my research!” With sincere gratitude extended to JSPS and people of Japan, after my two-year fellowship ends, I have been granted another 10 months of research funding to collaborate with my host researcher, Prof. Kato. This extended research period is centered on a technology transfer termed “Development of simple CO₂ incubator-free system for in-vitro production of pig embryos.” This system, when successfully developed, will enable me to conduct research and training on embryo production and nuclear transfer at my home university in Nigeria at relatively low cost, while applying the skills I’ve acquired through my research experience in Prof. Kato’s laboratory.

Q: How would you like to contribute to social development in your home country?

I suppose that by “social” development you mean development centered on people. So, I intend to conduct practical training of students and researchers in animal science and other related research areas, while applying and using my acquired skills, knowledge and techniques in enhancing Nigerian research in animal reproductive biotechnology. By virtue of my participation in this JSPS fellowship program, I have built a strong scientific network with many well-known Japanese researchers in different laboratories around Japan. Using this network, I intend to encourage and assist my students and young Nigerian researchers who may desire to visit Japan to do research with Japanese mentors and colleagues.

Finally, please permit me to use this opportunity to reiterate my appreciation to JSPS and people of Japan for supporting this exceptional postdoctoral research program. I could not have achieved my research goals without the expert advice and caring guidance provided by my host scientist, Prof. Kato, who always encouraged me to work through difficult times while providing me with a serene atmosphere for conducting my research in her lab. I also appreciate the generous support and help given to me by Dr. Tetsuya Tani, Dr. Koji Yoshioka and all the members of our laboratory.

After our interview, Dr. Machebe took us around the facilities of Kindai University. Coming from Nigeria, where the blazing sun reigns, it was only natural yet rather amusing to hear him say, “Gosh, it’s cold today!” on a warming springtime afternoon in Nara. During our stroll around the facilities with Dr. Machebe, we were impressed by his calm demeanor that contrasted with his vibrant enthusiasm for scientific discovery. As he continues working on the development of an incubator-free system for in-vitro production of pig embryos, we look forward to his results contributing to the solution of the global food-supply problem. Though it may be colder in Japan than Nigeria, we are sure that Dr. Machebe’s burning passion for the work will continue firing the kiln of his important research at Kindai University.

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JSPS Quarterly No.56 2016