by Tim Montgomery
Janice Frias, Katherine Volzing, Chad Satori and Josh Ochocki visited Japan this past November as part of the BioTechnology Institute’s ongoing exchange program with the Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST). They travelled to Japan with returning exchange students from NAIST whom they had previously hosted at BTI.
Exciting cultural experiences complemented the students’ lab work at NAIST, beginning with an informal welcome party where dried squid “candy” was served. The BTI group stayed on-campus in guest houses, were chaperoned to various tourist and cultural attractions and experienced new food and pastimes – from a hearty noodle meal of hiroshimayaki to a traditional foot bath where fish nibbled the dirt particles off their toes.
Katherine Volzing visited the ginza, a high style shopping district in Tokyo, and was invited to breakfast with a family in the Tsukiji Fish Market where they served her raw tuna on a stick.
“It looked yucky,” she confessed, “but it was the best thing I ever ate.”
Cultural excursions included time spent at the Todai-ji Temple in Nara; the Kiyomizu Temple, Sanjeusangen-do Temple Garden and Ginkaku-ji Gardens in Kyoto; the Floating Torii at Miyajima; Himeji Castle, and aboard the 200 mph Shinkansen or “bullet train” while in transit. But the exchange group from BTI also accomplished quite a bit in their lab work.
“Professor Takagi said we were the best working group ever,” exclaimed Chad Satori proudly. Satori was excited to work with cell transfections and binding assays in the Sato lab in a change of pace from his mostly analytical work under Edgar Arriaga at BTI.
Janice Frias, who has worked to synthesize biohydrocarbons in the Wackett lab at BTI, was assigned to the lab of NAIST exchange coordinator Hiroshi Takagi, Professor of Cell Biotechnology specializing in applied microbiology and protein engineering. Frias assisted in Takagi’s work with stress tolerance in yeast as an element in improving industrial fermentation in the production of bioethanol.
Frias, Satori and the other members of the exchange group from BTI each found their assignments while at NAIST to be rewarding. Distefano lab member Josh Ochocki was introduced to the work of Professor Kinichi Nakashima exploring neuron stem cells and how they develop into different types of brain cells. And Katherine Volzing found her experience in the lab of Ko Kato examining differentiation in gene expression in stem cells extracted from mice to be a change of pace from her statistical and computational modeling in the Kaznessis lab at BTI. All were impressed with the professionalism as well as the aggressive English requirements of their Japanese counterparts.
“They’re required to put together and present their lab work and plate results in English each week,” explained Janice Frias in amazement.
“The labs were impeccably clean,” concluded Chad Satori. “And everyone was very professional and kind.”