Fungal molecular biology in Japan

Last week I travelled to Japan for the first time since 2007. I gave a “special lecture” on Nov.12 at the 12th Conference on Fungal Genetics and Molecular Biology (in Nagoya), which was put on by the Fungal Molecular Biology Society of Japan. My host was Dr. Kiyohiko Igarashi, of the Department of Biomaterial Sciences at the University of Tokyo. The meeting was tremendously fun and included lots of presentations by students and post-docs; several papers and posters on fungal development were particularly interesting to me, as well as papers on the functional biology of various CAZYs and a symposium on fungal-plant interactions. Afterwards, I visited Tsukuba Science City (for the first time), which feels more like Davis, Caifornia, or the Research Triangle Park than Japan. In Tsukuba, I visited with a number of Dr. Igarashi’s colleagues, who work on various aspects of CAZYs, bioethanol production, plant pathology, etc. We also had a brief excursion up to Mount Tsukuba, from which we got a great view of Mt. Fuji silhouetted by the sunset. A revelation of this trip was the existence of the Moyashimon cartoon series, which includes microbial cartoon characters referable to actual species. This may explain why one undergraduate student in Nagoya told me that she works on Aspergillus oryzae because it is “cute”. I also gave a seminar at Tokyo University on Nov. 15. All in all, it was a fantastic trip and a nice opportunity to meet a lot of fungal biologists. While I was in Japan, Alfredo was in Brazil and Dimi and Laszlo were in France. More on those forays in the next blog post.

Characters from Moyashimon

Dinner with members of the Igarashi/Samejima group. This photo was taken by Masahiro Samejima; Kiyo Igarashi is second from left.

I climbed Mt. Fuji in 1988. Looking out across the Kanto plain at the volcano cone 24 years later, I felt like I was gazing across both time and space.