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"The Researchers with Nice Step": NISTEP selects ten young researchers who are expected to be active in the future

2022.05.23

The National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP) of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has chosen 10 individuals who are expected to play an active role in the future in a wide range of fields, including cutting edge basic research on the evolution of life and materials, fusion research applying informatics technology to the field of humanities, and research closely related to the challenges of modern society, such as large-scale disaster simulations using large-scale calculators. In particular, the agency has focused on junior researchers in their 30s-40s (mean age 40 years) who are expected to be active in the future.

■ Hiroyasu Inoue (46 years old), Associate Professor, Graduate School of Information Science, University of Hyogo; JST PRESTO Researcher; RIKEN Visiting Researcher

Dr. Inoue has focused on the relationships between socio-economic components, such as the supply chain and the dissemination of knowledge between people and companies when innovation occurs, to better understand the process of product supply disruption. In addition, he has been advancing his research by combining social science work with simulations and network science performed on supercomputers such as the "K computer" and "Fugaku." For the first time, this enabled researchers to comprehend phenomena that cannot be explained by observing only individual persons or companies and run simulations that account for the complexities of societies and economies with multiple interdependent components.

■ Hiroyuki Imachi (46 years old), Senior Researcher, Institute for Extra-cutting-edge Science and Technology Avant-garde Research (X-STAR), Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology

■ Yu Nobu (33 years old), Senior Researcher, Bioproduction Research Institute, Department of Life Science and Biotechnology, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology

After more than 10 years of work, Dr. Imachi and Dr. Nobu became the first in the world to achieve the pure culture of Asgard superphylum archaea (ancient bacteria) from deep-sea sediments collected by the manned submersible research vehicle Shinkai 6500. These bacteria are thought to be the key to understanding the origins of eukaryotic organisms. They then proposed a new theory of eukaryote evolution, the E3 model, based on the characteristics and genome information of the cultured strains. The E3 model hypothesizes that when oxygen levels on Earth increased approximately 2.7 billion years ago, archaea coexisted with the bacterial ancestors of mitochondria, specific bacteria that were able to detoxify poisonous oxygen. These mitochondrial ancestors were eventually integrated into archaeal cells, resulting in the first eukaryotic cells. The preprint was a big hit as soon as it was announced. Even before it was published in Nature, this discovery was named Breakthrough of the Year by Science Magazine in 2019. It is regarded as one of the greatest discoveries of this century.

■ Makoto Goto (45 years old), Associate Professor, National Museum of Japanese History Associate Professor, School of Cultural and Social Studies, Graduate University for Advanced Studies

Dr. Goto has done pioneering work in the digital humanities field in Japan, applying informatics techniques and technologies to the humanities from the standpoint of specializing in ancient Japanese history, such as research on Shosoin documents. This innovative use of computers has breathed new life into the fragmented fields of humanities research. Co-creation with non-expert local residents using information technology has also contributed significantly to the development of the public history field, which is concerned with creating new historical and cultural knowledge. He is a leader in the field that has contributed to the creation of comprehensive knowledge through the pursuit of digital humanities.

■ Naoyuki Sakumichi (38 years old), Specially Appointed Lecturer, Department of Bioengineering, Graduate School of Engineering, The University of Tokyo

Dr. Sakumichi has discovered several physical laws governing soft matter, such as rubber and gel. He has clarified the mechanism of the "speed jump" phenomenon that causes the high-speed breakdown of various rubber types widely used in industry, including tires. This mechanism had remained unsolved for over 60 years.
Moreover, with respect to the softness of gels used in foods such as jelly and tofu and medical materials such as soft contact lenses and hemostatic agents, he discovered a new physical law of water retention in gels and the concept of "negative energy elasticity," ideas that have overturned established theories that had been widely accepted for nearly a century.

■ Masashi Soga (33 years old), Associate Professor, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, The University of Tokyo

Dr. Soga is conducting research to address various social issues confronting modern society by better understanding the structure, dynamism, and role of the natural relationship between people. Dr. Soga has made several original achievements by conducting interdisciplinary research that incorporates a wide range of research methodologies and ideas and the ecology he specializes in. Clarivate Analytics has also recognized several of his papers as highly cited papers.

■ Michitaka Notaguchi (41 years old), Associate Professor, Bioscience and Biotechnology Center, Nagoya University Director of Grand Green Co., Ltd. (Venture of Nagoya University)

After years of grafting research, Dr. Notaguchi discovered that plants of the genus Nicotiana could adhere their tissues to those of other families. To explore the application of these findings, he conducted grafting tests on various plants used as agricultural resources and discovered that almost all plants of the genus Nicotiana can be grafted onto other plants. This discovery is considered to directly contribute to the efficiency and sophistication of agricultural technology and the development of new varieties, and it has been highly evaluated.

■ Daiyu Nobori (37 years old), Director, Cyber Technology Laboratory, Industrial Cyber Security Center of Excellence, Information-Technology Promotion Agency, Japan; CEO of SoftEther Corporation; NTT East Special Bureau member; University of Tsukuba Industry-Government-Academia Co-creation Producer (Professor of Industry-University Collaboration)

Dr. Nobori has been developing and implementing communication-related systems, since he was a student, beginning with VPN-related software. For example, in response to the COVID-19 epidemic, he collaborated with NTT East to develop a thin telework system, which primarily uses VPN communication, to enable business operations to continue as usual without employees going to offices considering the risk of infection. It is currently operating stably on a large scale. Moreover, the company intends to make the system open source.

■ Miho Hatanaka (38 years old), Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science and Technology, Keio University

Dr. Hatanaka focused on the property of the 4f orbital that determines the emission characteristics of rare earth compounds and developed an approximate calculation method named "energy shift method" that takes advantage of this property. She pioneered the ability to calculate structural and energy changes that occur during the deactivation of rare earth compounds. This method has been utilized to clarify the mechanism of functional expression of various rare-earth luminescent materials, such as strong luminescent and temperature-sensitive luminescent sensors. She has successfully designed a new luminescent material by applying her knowledge of the mechanisms discovered during her research.

■ Yuriko Higuchi (47 years old), Associate Professor, Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Kyoto University

Dr. Higuchi has developed a drug delivery system that exerts the therapeutic effect of a drug at the required place in the living body for the duration of the time required. She recently developed a method to artificially align and modify small molecule antibodies that bind to specific proteins (antigens) on the cell membrane by treating cells as therapeutic agents. In this method, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which have anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects, are modified with small molecule antibodies. Her group succeeded in selectively adhering MSCs to inflamed vascular endothelial cells at a flow velocity assuming blood flow through binding to an antigen that is highly expressed in inflammatory vascular endothelium. Furthermore, she has been able to modify functional groups in cell membranes that do not react with biomolecules. As a result, she has succeeded in freely arranging and fixing multiple types of cells on glass surfaces.

Winners and related persons who paid a courtesy visit to Shinsuke Suematsu, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (third from the right in the front row)

This article has been translated by JST with permission from The Science News Ltd.(https://sci-news.co.jp/). Unauthorized reproduction of the article and photographs is prohibited.

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