Laboratory for DNA Data Analysis, Gojobori Group ISHIKAWA, Masakazu

Tell us about your research.
My research theme is the evolution of intracellular symbiosis of Hydra and green algae. Hydra is a group of organisms about 1cm in size that are related to jellyfish and sea anemones. Even in same species of Hydra, one strain is able to harbor alga, but some of strains are not able to harbor the algae even I forcely infect the algae. I am trying to find out what makes this difference.
Did you choose your research theme by yourself?
Yes. I did. In fact, one of the reasons I chose my laboratory is that it leaves the students basically free to do what we want to do. I had considered many other themes and, after discussing with my professor, I chose the one that may be developed into further studies in the future. Instead of simply following my interest, I chose it by considering whether it could make a significant contribution to Biology.
Why did you choose NIG/SOKENDAI?
I had not worked on DNA until my master’s degree. So I wanted to focus on genetics. I did a lot of research online and learned about the information meeting about the NIG’s postgraduate program by chance. I attended the meeting, had talks with professors, and made up my mind.
How do you find the program, now that you’re in it?
I’m impressed by the large number of seminars, far more than at my university. There’re also special seminars held in honor of visiting noted scientists, which we have quite frequently. At the university, the professors didn’t present their research, but here everyone does. I’m also impressed by the large number of common equipment and apparatuses. Laboratories loan reagents between themselves relatively freely. The Institute has an extensive collection of model organisms. I think we have an excellent research environment.
How do you like living in Mishima?
To be honest, it can get lonely, especially if you live alone. Mishima is not very populated, so everything closes early in the evening. But I have no problem in term of daily convenience, with a nearby supermarket and all. Also, it takes less than one hour to go to Tokyo by Shinkansen. It’s quite convenient. I used to belong to a scuba diving club in college, and I continue to practice. Diving spots are very close from Mishima, although this doesn’t mean much to me since I don’t have a car and my friend from Tokyo has to come pick me up anyway… (laughs)
What would be your advice to younger students considering coming to NIG?
What I really want to say is that it’s important to meet professors from the laboratories that interest them and have thorough talks with them. There’s only so much you can learn from the Internet. It’s essential that you personally visit the laboratory several times and talk directly with its people before finally choosing it. It’s OK to take your time.
By the way, is it true that you took one and a half years away from your research?
Yes. I went to Tanzania as a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer and worked as a science teacher in a lower secondary school for one and a half years. I resumed my studies in October 2013. That was something I had always wanted to do, since before becoming a Ph. D. student. I believe that both research and education are important for the advancement of science, so I wanted to train myself in teaching as well. I also believe that science must be open to all. I chose to go to Africa to contribute to making science accessible to all, anywhere in the world. I have a similar idea about research. My parents were opposed to my going on to the doctoral course – they still are – but I think I should pursue it since that’s what I really want to do. I’m not sure if I’m enjoying it all the time. What you want to do is not always enjoyable. But I hope to continue my research in the future, probably outside Japan.