JSPS Quarterly

No.65 2018 TOPICS

Research and Life in Japan by a JSPS Fellow (47)

Dr. Zabelina Valeriya
Dr. Zabelina Valeriya

“Genome Engineering and Parthenocloning in the Silkworm, Bombyx mori”

JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow, National Agriculture and Food Research Organization, 2016-2018
Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute of Entomology, Biology Centre, Czech Academy of Science, Czech Republic, 2010-present
Ph.D. (Biological Sciences), V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, Ukraine, 2010

Coming from Ukraine, Dr. Zabelina Valeriya is conducting research under a JSPS Postdoctoral Fellowship with her host Dr. Naoyuki Yonemura at the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO). We asked Dr. Zabelina to tell us about her research activities and life in Japan.

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

My research area is parthenocloning in the silkworm Bombyx mori. Parthenocloning is the propagation of organisms that maintain their original genotype by specific thermal treatment that induces parthenogenesis in eggs dissected from virgin females of Bombyx mori. Parthenoclones obtained through selection for maximal capacity to parthenogenesis have been maintained without sexual reproduction for decades with conserved genetic and morphological traits until nowadays. That is the best evidence for introducing this historical finding into current silkworm biotechnologies such as genetic manipulations leading to new kinds of silk and to use of silkworms as bioreactors for the production of precious proteins. Parthenocloning provides a basis for setting up standards for the products of biotechnological and pharmacological sericulture. Our aim is to construct cloned transgenic silkworm strains efficient for commercial use.

Q: What got you interested in this research subject?

I became interested in parthenocloning in the silkworm as an undergraduate student at the department of Genetics and Cytology, Karazin Kharkiv National University, Kharkiv, Ukraine, I was lucky to meet Prof. V.V. Klymenko who supervised my Master's and Ph.D. studies and taught me how to deal with the silkworm. Prof. Klymenko is a student of the famous Russian geneticist B.L. Astaurov who discovered ameiotic parthenogenesis in the silkworm and predicted the mechanism of heat-induced parthenogenesis. Both scientists have established strong collaborations with Japanese colleagues since a long time ago. My Ph.D. studies concerned silkworm genetics and parthenogenesis. I continued and extended these investigations during my postdoctoral stay in the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences. I examined the capacity for parthenogenesis in ovaries of a parthenoclone transplanted into male hosts of a standard silkworm strain and analyzed interactions between the implant and recipient cytologically and biochemically. I found that ovary cultivation in the male hosts induced phenotypic variability in the progeny developed from the implant due to partial expression of some dominant alleles. I showed that deviations from the donor phenotype were temporary modifications and were not inherited by the following parthenogenetic generations; ovaries transferred from parthenoclone larvae to non-parthenogenetic hosts retain the capacity of ameiotic parthenogenesis.

With Prof. Morita
          Dr. Valeriya and her host Dr. Yonemura

Q: Why did you come to Japan to pursue that research? What motivated you to further your research here?

During my postdoctoral fellowship at the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences under a European project I had to stay abroad for several months. The main purpose of that stay included experience exchange, learning new techniques, lab organization and functioning. At that time we were searching for a laboratory that better fits the topic of my research and has conditions for fast and smooth obtaining of results. There were just a few labs in the world corresponding our search criteria. Deployment of a highly parthenogenetic silkworm strain for transgenesis was the primary field of my interest. The use of a parthenoclone can considerably accelerate the selection of successfully transformed individuals and the establishment of a homozygous line. Combining my knowledge of silkworm parthenogenesis with the expertise of silkworm transgenesis available in the Transgenic Silkworm Research Unit, Division of Biotechnology, Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, NARO was the key objective of my stay in Japan. So, that was my best choice.

Q: You are residing Japan with your daughter. How do you find creating a balance between conducting your research and taking care of your daughter while living in Japan?

From the moment I decided to come to Japan for a research stay with my daughter I understood that I could hardly predict all the possible difficulties related to organizing of my stay in a way that balanced conducting my research with taking care of my daughter. Before coming to Tsukuba I made an on-line search of schools and got feedback on some forums. Upon our arrival I received huge support from by my host researcher in all organizational issues — he accompanied me when visiting all the necessary institutions and made communication possible. I am really grateful for his help. Also my colleagues are always eager to help in any matter I may encounter in my everyday life. They always give me very good advice. Later on, I got acquainted with other parents in my daughter's school and when I have a tight schedule due to my experiments, they also help out with my daughter. I am very lucky to have met nice and kind local people; with their help, taking care of my child and conducting research appears to be quite manageable.


Dr. Valeriya and her host Dr. Yonemura

Q: What's your interest outside your research work? What do you usually do on your days off?

My interests are very wide. I love nature and my passion is travelling, I prefer active rest. So my daughter and I became members of a Tsukuba hiking club. If we have time and the chance to be involved in such activities, we join trips or travel with friends. As a parent I wish to give and show as much as possible to my child. Also, I am interested in cultural exchange. I think it is a very important mission for parents to transfer their own culture and traditions to their children being raised abroad so that they will know their roots and, at the same time, know how to integrate into surrounding society. Sometimes we attend events organized by local cultural clubs and participate in performances during international festivals, as I am a folk dancer. Both of us study Japanese a bit. We like winter sports such as skiing and skating and summer sports such as windsurfing, swimming, and badminton. From time to time, we visit a nearby gym as physical activity is very important for both mental and physical health.

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

The JSPS fellowship is known as one of the most prestigious fellowships around the world. Being highly competitive, many young researchers hesitate to apply for it. Do try to apply for your research project. If you succeed in winning the fellowship, you will never regret this challenging experience. Moving abroad in itself requires a lot of courage. Only when you leave your comfort zone and take on a new life opportunity, can you widen your perception of the world. Life is in motion and power is in change. Living abroad helps you to see your own values more clearly, which is linked to better well-being, more success in your career, stronger ability to cope with stress, making clearer decisions, and becoming more creative and open-minded. Japan has very good facilities for conducting your research with hi-tech equipped, modern laboratories, and well-organized working systems where everyone does their specific jobs. Under these conditions, it is easy to concentrate on your own research, not wasting your time on organizational procedures. You will for sure advance your research while having a chance to travel around this beautiful country and come in touch with its culture and traditions. Networking is very important in our lives. You should develop your communicative skills to be able to establish good connections. Attending scientific meetings may help in search for your future collaborators.

As we began our interview with Dr. Valeriya, our impression was that coming to Japan from  Ukraine, she had various concerns about doing research while living with her daughter in an unfamiliar country. As our conversation with her unfolded, however, we found that she is enjoying both doing research and living in Japan. Whereas she and her daughter felt some anxiety before coming here, their experiences while living in Japan have dispelled it. Not only do her host researcher and lab mates lend a helping hand in her daily living but also the parents of her daughter's friends offer support and held out in child raising. Watching Dr. Valeriya as she engages in her research, we saw her as being a superb example of how a scientist can achieve a balance between research and child raising while residing in a foreign land. We hope that her experience will provide impetus to others who are considering coming to Japan to do their research.

page top
JSPS Quarterly No.65 2018