Professor Shimizu’s area is metabolic information engineering. He uses both bioengineering and information science approaches in his research, which has produced industrial products that make use of microbes. He expects HWIP to drive further advancements in interdisciplinary research.
Designing cells and enhancing their usability
In a nutshell, my research involves using cells to create substances that humans need. Today, genome analysis has advanced to the point where we have a good grasp of the internal workings of cells. This has made it easier to pursue my kind of research.
To be more specific, I am working to enhance the functionality of useful microbes. The types of microbes I use include coliforms (Escherichia coli), yeasts, corynebacteria, grass bacilli (Bacillus subtilis) and cyanobacteria. First I investigate cell condition at molecular level, and then actually create cells based on designs I conceive using computers. I observe the results and then apply them to formulate better designs, in an ongoing research cycle.
One project I am currently working on involves enhancing cyanobacteria, a type of microbe that uses photosynthesis, with the aim of creating cells that enable more concentrated photosynthesis. This research is connected to the goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, one of the causes of global warming.
Exploring complementarities across disciplines
Interdisciplinary research is essential in my area. The process of designing, manufacturing, investigating and verifying cell functions cannot easily be undertaken by a single researcher in isolation. Progress can only be made by enlisting the help of other researchers.
I am always keen to discuss “research seeds” with experts in other fields. Dramatic advances in research can be achieved when researchers work together to complement and augment each other’s work. I believe that even within my own research lab, there are technologies that would benefit positively from being combined with those in other fields.
Cultivating a climate of free thinking and initiative
I also place much faith in interaction among students themselves. Free exchange of ideas across disciplinary borders is likely to produce researchers of a type not seen in the past. It would be great to see participants in this program coming together to launch a start-up enterprise. I hope to foster a climate in which students feel comfortable to take on new challenges and are rewarded for doing so, even if they do not succeed.
Finally, a word of advice based on my own experience. The secret to success in interdisciplinary research is to engage seriously with your collaborators’ research fields, even if only for a short period of time. If there is genuine, earnest engagement on all sides, you are sure to produce fruitful research for all involved.