Lectures

Lecture 1

Protein world: A wide variety of protein structures

Akinori Kidera
Name
Akinori Kidera, Ph. D.
(Yokohama City University Graduate School of Nanobio science)
Place
Main Office Building Lecture Hall (1F)
Time
10:20-11:00

We have frequently heard that natural environment has to maintain a large variety of biological species, that is, 'biological diversity' in the ecosystem. Although it sounds a different issue, the notion of diversity is also important in a human body. Genome, as the blueprint of life, encodes a large variety of genes, or various kinds of proteins. The diversity within a human body is also important.

How different proteins are? Proteins are built by connecting various kinds of amino acids with the sequence prescribed in genome. Since the amino acid sequence determines protein’s three-dimensional structure, the diversity of protein sequences reflects their structural diversity, and eventually leads the diversity of protein functions.

Today’s talk is to show a whole variety of protein structures. Seeing various protein structures from a certain viewpoint, we recognize that the structural variety is not as large as expected, or more straightforwardly it is quite limited. We will discuss the implications of this finding.

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Lecture 2

Is the Calico Cat Pattern Hereditary?

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Name
Haruhiko Koseki, M.D., Ph.D.
(RIKEN Research Center for Allergy and Immunology )
Place
Main Office Building Lecture Hall (1F)
Time
11:10-11:50

The phenotype of an individual: that is to say the structure and function of the tissues and organs in the body in the micro level, differs from one person to another and is largely subjected to Mendelian inheritance. This means that the characteristic features of each individual is chiefly determined by the DNA code which he/she inherits from the parents.

The striking similarity between monozygotic twins is one example of how the phenotype could be controlled by the genotype (genome DNA information). However, at the same time, it is also known that exogenous factors such as nutritional inputs and environmental cues can create “differences” even between genetically identical monozygotic twins. For example, although genetically inherited disorders such as autism is usually observed in both of the monozygotic twins, other malignancies such as cancer, rheumatism and autoimmunity could sometimes occur only in one twin but not in the other. This indicates that the genome information which is written in our DNA could be altered during the course of our lives owing to exogenous signals. This kind of plasticity and change in the genome information could also be differentially regulated between males and females. Males have only one X chromosome, while the females have two.  To maintain the balance for gene dosage, one X chromosome is known to be randomly inactivated (in somatic tissues) in females. In summary, recently it has become clear that the genetic information in our body could be modified and changed (without altering the DNA sequence itself).

I will discuss how these changes are mediated inside the cell and how these relate to development and disease in broader way.

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Lecture 3

A fairy tale of phytochemicals

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Name
Kazuki Saito, Ph.D.
(RIKEN Plant Science Center)
Place
Main Office Building Lecture Hall (1F)
Time
12:00-12:40

Plants as sessile organisms produce an immense variety of chemicals for protection against herbivores and pathogenic organisms. Mankind uses these chemicals for medicines, flavors and cosmetics.

Licorice plants accumulate glycyrrhizin, a compound used as a natural sweetener, and the dry licorice roots are also used quite frequently as a component of Sino-Japanese traditional medicines (KAMPO). However, there are potential risks of a shortage of natural resources and of a restriction on licorice export from China. We have identified the genes involved in the production of glycyrrhizin and successfully produced the biosynthetic intermediate of glycyrrhizin in recombinant yeast. Alkaloids usually represent ‘bitter components’ of plants and often used as medicines. By comparing gene expression profiles of ‘bitter variety’ accumulating alkaloids and ‘sweet variety’ free of alkaloids, we have identified a gene committed to the first step of biosynthesis of alkaloids.

In the seminar, I will talk about the forefront research on plant chemicals intelligibly.

Figure 1. Licorice roots (Photo by Dr. Kiminori Toyooka)

Figure 2. Lupinus angustifolius (Photo by Dr. Somnuk Bunsupa in Chiba Univ.)

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Lecture 4

A living organism is material? Or is it information?

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Name
Tetsuro Toyoda, Ph.D.
(RIKEN Bioinformatics And Systems Engineering division )
Place
Main Office Building Lecture Hall (1F)
Time
12:50-13:30

A living organism combines two mysterious presences; “its nature as a material” and “its nature as information”. In living organisms, there is a mechanism that reads information from out of material. Also, conversely, the mechanism is working as well to produce material from the information.

Material and information – these are completely different concepts, but in order to understand a living organism it is necessary to grasp this from both sides. Information is read out of the material, this information procreates new material in a cycle, and the material and the information is bridged by shape complementarity at the molecular level.  In order to understand this mechanism, things that control this are the biggest theme of modern biology. For this purpose, we researchers not only test biological material experimentally; we examine the information with computers in order to make this cycle clear.

In particular, this cycle is important in considering the evolution of living organisms. By this cycle self-replication (producing one’s own copy) becomes possible; this is thought to have led to the evolution of living organisms.  And this is not just limited to living organisms; the importance of the discovery of such kinds of cycles will be demonstrated in other fields such as physics, business administration, and philosophy as well.

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