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  Brochure 2007-2008 Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences

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Introduction to Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences

Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences is a new graduate school dedicated to advancing forefront of life sciences. Established in April 2002, the school has assembled, from within and outside Osaka University, top-level researchers and educators who are experts in a wide variety of disciplines, including medicine, biology, physics, and engineering. The creation of the new department is based on our strong belief that humans and animals are not merely a simple aggregate of genetic materials, molecules, and biological structures. It is rather an ever-changing complex dynamical system, whose understanding necessitates a true interdisciplinary systems approach. Graduate School (and Department) of Frontier Biosciences consists of 6 main groups of laboratories, and affiliated laboratories. The graduate program in Frontier Biosciences offers a unique 5-year intensive training culminating in a doctoral degree upon successful completion of the program. Our goal is to nurture students and scientists in our active research environment so that they become fully equipped for taking biosciences to the next height.

Fusion of Diverse Disciplines to Study Nanobiology to Brain Science

Advanced research is conducted in 30 laboratories covering diverse research areas from nanobiology to brain science. Combining complementary technologies from biology, medicine, physics, and engineering, we have created a unique graduate school where synergetic interdisciplinary interactions take place on a regular basis among students, research staff and faculty members. We are extending the circle of collaborations internationally by inviting graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and established scientists from all over the world. Primarily for this purpose, the School has been awarded a 5-year "21-st Century Center of Excellence" grant by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. In order to illustrate our research and educational activities, some of the representative examples of research being conducted at the Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences are described below.


Research in nanobiology takes place at the convergence point of many branches of science and technology including physics, photonics, biology, genetics, and computer science. For example, Protonic NanoMachine Group, led by Professor Namba, is conducting research on macromolecular structures of seemingly simple organisms such as salmonella bacteria, a common cause of food poisoning. Despite common perception of low status given to bacteria in the hierarchy of life forms, there are surprisingly well-organized nano-scale mechanisms that allow them to swim. Their locomotion is controlled by spinning long tails, flagella, each of which is driven by a tiny motor that is only 30 to 40 nm in diameter, and yet, it rotates as fast as 20,000 to 100,000 rpm. Another remarkable aspect of these structures is that they self-assemble themselves instead of being assembled by an intelligent mechanism. Professor Namba's group aims at the ultimate understanding of the mechanisms of self-assembly and its regulation, conformational switching, force generation, and energy transduction by biological macromolecular structures. By convergence of complementary techniques, such as X-ray diffraction and electron cryomicroscopy for high-resolution analysis of three-dimensional structures, and optical and electronic measurements on individual molecular complexes for analyzing their dynamic behaviors, the research group tries to reveal the basic principles behind their functional mechanisms, in the hope that they will form a basis for artificial nanomachine design and nanotechnology.

Soft Biosystem Group, led by Professor Yanagida, has developed innovative techniques by which one can visualize and manipulate positions and behaviors of individual single biomolecules. Applying this technique to proteins, for example, they are investigating the structural changes and responses of proteins to the external signal at the single molecular level in real time. Theoretical models are also being constructed by incorporating the experimental results drawing on the information system theory, non-linear physics and non-equilibrium statistical thermodynamics.

Genes, Molecules, and Cells

Genetics Group, led by Professor Nagata, is studying fundamental genetic and molecular mechanisms by which homeostasis in animals is controlled. Although adult animals appear to maintain relatively stable overall shape and conditions of their body, internally there is a tremendous amount of growth, differentiation and death of cells. This process is often regulated by cytokines, a class of proteins secreted by cells of the immune system. One of the most surprising and interesting aspects of this process is that, when cells die, it is usually not because they are damaged or worn out. Rather, it is by apoptosis, programmed cell death, a process by which cells kill themselves according to a genetically preprogrammed plan. Using techniques of biochemistry and molecular biology, Professor Nagata's group studies the molecular mechanism of the signal transduction induced by cytokines.

Professor Kondoh's Developmental Biology Group is investigating regulation of the embryonic development, how intercellular signaling molecules act, how cells respond to the signals and activate transcriptional regulators, and how the action of transcriptional regulators cause cell differentiation. The major subject of the research is the differentiation of the primitive central nervous system and the sensory organs exemplified by eye lens.

Neuroscience: from Molecular Basis to Understanding Cognition

Professor Yagi's group is investigating the biological mechanisms underlying the generation of brain function. The generation of brain function occurs through innate programming initially as well as by acquisition via environmental stimuli during brain development. Studies in his laboratory focus on the identification of molecular groups that regulate brain development, brain evolution, and mental disorders. They plan to employ these molecules in order to understand the biological mechanisms involved in neural circuit generation and reorganization, as well as the relationship between neural circuits and brain function. In particular, brain function analysis at the individual level is performed in Professor Yagi's laboratory using gene-converted mice and rats.

Professor Murakami heads the Developmental and Functional Neuroscience Group. His group is studying how the brain forms complex interconnections between large number of neurons located in different parts of the brain. Development and plasticity of embryonic and neonatal brain are one of the most spectacular areas of neuroscience. Neural cells are born in specialized zones within the brain and migrate to appropriate target locations. Then, axonal interconnections are formed between these neurons, often over a very long distance often reaching several centimeters. How do growing axons find the correct target neurons with which they form synaptic connections? How modifiable are these connections? In order to answer these fundamental questions, Professor Murakami's group combines multiple technologies from genetic methods to real-time imaging of developing neural tissues.

The School also has an active program in sensory neuroscience and biophysics, ranging from light and chemical (odor and taste) sensory transduction mechanisms to visual information processing, leading eventually to cognition and behavior. Although we tend to take our sensory and motor abilities granted in our daily life, a tremendous amount neural information processing is taking place within our brain. How does the brain analyze visual scenes and extract necessary information for making decisions? How do we recognize variety of objects that come into view? Several groups of scientists are investigating these fundamental problems of perception by combining multitude of technologies including molecular, imaging, anatomical, and electrophysiological methods.

Unique and Flexible Interdisciplinary Education

Unlike most graduate schools in Japan that offer separate masters and doctorate programs, we offer a 5-year intensive Ph.D. program to foster top-level professionals in biosciences and related fields. Completion of the program does not necessarily require 5 years. If desired, exceptional students can complete the program on an accelerated schedule. Teaching staff has background in a wide variety of disciplines, including medicine, biology, physics, and engineering. Equally diverse are our students who also come with undergraduate (and sometimes graduate) background in many different fields. To ensure multidisciplinary training and research activities, we have lowered barriers among laboratories by organizing all groups under a single department, the Department of Frontier Biosciences. Furthermore, each student chooses multiple advisors from different disciplines to provide a broad training in diverse research areas. We are also emphasizing collaboration with the industry in research and education. In order to facilitate involvement of researchers from industry in our program, we are actively developing various industrial liaison programs, and have successfully solicited endowed chairs.

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