Research Interview 2
By Shizu YAMAGUCHI
July 7, 2015
I knocked on Professor room’s door. Prof KINOSHITA and I started talking in the hot room in the afternoon.
–Is the term for one research determined in advance?
My beginning question seemed to be a bit surprising for him. He said the term depends on research-plan and its budget rather than length of time. And some researches may produce unexpected results out of their plans.
Some students at non-scientific department relate researchers to workers wearing white coats in a national or private institute, and they’re sometimes unaware that professors are also researchers, and labs in universities are important institutes.
Well I felt a bit sweaty. Our conversation turned to his classes at the School of Engineering.
MEANING OF A CLASS
Then I thought in my mind I’ll ask about links between his research and class, but he asked before me, “ Do you think lectures are really useful for students? ” His question reminded me of my experiences as a student.
Certainly some classes were interesting. For instance, guides for special education, analyses of literature works. Those provided me with new points of view made me thoughtful. Compared to those, I wanted to take a nap in dull lectures; what all I did was only hearing Prof’s text reading for 90 minutes.
Around 2 decades ago, teachers of universities had more freedom to give lectures. Prof Kinoshita remembers his first class clearly because his teacher was very late and said, “Why are you sitting here?” They thought that students studied by themselves not depending on lectures too much. Prof Kinoshita thinks that text-learning classes should be more flexible; one student needs 1 year to understand a theory though another student takes only 1 month.
–Then what do you want to give your students at your class?
Air conditioner has cooled the room. The wind cleared my head.
He’d struggled how to improve his lecture for first 2 years. “Should I teach them algorithm in between biology and informatics? Is it useful for them? Anyway, what are they thinking about?” Finally he determined his style giving them hints for new ways of thinking with issues lie in genome science.
Genome science is classified as biological science (not engineering) , actually it’s good material to learn biodiversity.
LEARNING ABOUT DIVERSITY
In the past we had inspection of color blindness (called ‘color-vision deficiency’ in Japan today) at elementary school. However, the inspection is now for only applicants. Some people were afraid that inspection in classes would cause discrimination (I can’t understand this idea). The Prof says, “I believe it’s one of diversity that we can read from genome information, NOT deficiency.” Various patterns of color vision exist, both less and more than usual.
He told me an example of color universal design. Lines of Tokyo Metro Subway were showed in colored circles before. Now lines’ initials are written in each colored circle. Thus color-blind people can also distinguish lines. The topic of genome became close to me, as I’d seen the signs many times. “Students would have no idea if a topic were not close to them.” His words were persuasive.
Natural selection and biodiversity, considering these 2 themes is complicated related to issues of bioethics and medical care. However, you can consider it easier with Pokémon video game! I was a little embarrassed to hear that. Because I’d played the piano instead of games in my childhood, and I couldn’t image the game with genome and diversity topics.
Game player hybridize Pokémon, and choose stronger one, so Pokémon are under selection pressure from player. This individual-selecting pressure is so high in a very short term like playing a game. While in the real, people hardly choose and desert their children (=low pressure). Diversity, needs some generations to gain ability to adapt to environment, is not nurtured in a high-pressure world; dinosaurs were very strong in a specific period, but weak in the climate change.
The Prof questioned students meaning of studying genome modification. Genome information (including 30,000 genes) are almost common among human. Genes’ problems come from 0.1% of genome modification, and there’s no clear boundary between disorder and health.
He introduced 2 movies to them, ‘Extraordinary Measures’ (2010), and ‘Gattaca’ (1997). The former is a documentary that a father strived to cure his serious disease children, and the latter is a SF film that people are classified upper and under class by genome editing. Students described their opinion about themes ‘effort and talent’, ‘price of medicine and human’, etc.
PRICE OF LIFE
He said paying fees for treatment is a social problem that we cannot ignore. A medicine for rare disease might need 8 million dollars to develop par one patient. How much do you pay to survive or save someone? Japanese public insurance system is one solution (I think it’s the best way for medical expense, because all people cannot deny falling sick). The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare designates rare diseases for public support.
I got relieved for a moment, but gloomy memory came into my mind. Last summer a couple answered my interview. They lost their young sons by intractable disease that needs more than 800 thousand dollars for transplant surgery in America.
AT THE END OF INTERVIEW
Prof Kinoshita is trying to give students unique idea at his class. “Research means discovery, and I want them to get a clue for their study before starting research.”
The room has completely become cool and comfortable. I felt like taking his class for thinking genome problems. I opened the door after saying thank you –a sticker of cat’s silhouette above the doorknob, since he loves cats. The interview, or his class, was over.
PH.D. in Chemistry
GSC research associate at Osaka university (2000-2001)
Assistant Professor at Yokohama City University (2002-2003)
Visiting Associate Professor at Institute for protein research (2014.1-9)
Associate Professor, Institute of Medical Science at University of Tokyo (2004/10-2009)
Professor, Graduate School of Information Science at Tohoku University (2009.10-)