Faculty and Research

The professoriate at OIST numbers about 60 faculty members with strongly international backgrounds, each leading cutting edge research in a range of disciplines. OIST does not have traditional academic departments, but you can use the tabs or keyword search to find faculty members according to their discipline or research topics. For information about the availability of PhD student placement in each unit, please refer here. 

Sydney Brenner
MSc, MB, BCh (Medicine), The University of Witwatersrand
DPhil, Exeter College, Oxford University

Sydney Brenner has led a distinguished research career in the field of genetics. In 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his founding work in developmental biology. Brenner served as President of the OIST Promotion Corporation from 2005– 2011 and his determination and drive were essential factors in the creation of the Graduate University. He visits OIST regularly as a Distinguished Professor.

To learn more about the Biological Systems Unit (Igor Goryanin) visit the unit website
Igor Goryanin
BSc, Moscow Engineering Physics Institute
PhD, The Russian Academy of Science

The Biological Systems Unit is working on devices in which microorganisms break down waste, releasing energy in the process. Key Okinawan industries such as awamori distilleries, pig and chicken farms, sugar manufacturers, and municipal wastewater treatment facilities stand to benefit economically and environmentally from this approach.

To learn more about the Immune Signal Unit (Hiroki Ishikawa) visit the unit website
Hiroki Ishikawa
BSc, MSc, PhD, Nagoya University

All animals and plants have an innate, or non-specific, immune system to fight infection and disease. Unlike innate immune cells, cells in the adaptive immune system remember pathogens they have encountered. The Immune Signal Unit studies how cells in the adaptive immune system are activated by the innate system and form memories of pathogens, with the aim to design more and better vaccines.

Keiko Kono
Ph.D. University of Tokyo, Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, Japan 2005
M.S. University of Tokyo, Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, Japan 2002
B.S. University of Tokyo, Department of Science, Japan 2000

Cellular wounding and repair of local plasma membranes occur constantly in our bodies. Plasma membrane damage can be induced by various triggers ranging from pathogen invasion to muscle contraction. Our unit aims to elucidate the molecular mechanisms and physiological consequences of plasma membrane repair. A long-term scientific goal will be to reveal the link between cancer/senescence and the plasma membrane.

Membranology Unit (Keiko Kono)
To learn more about the Membrane Cooperativity Unit (Akihiro Kusumi) visit the unit website
Akihiro Kusumi
B.Sc. (Biophysics) Department of Biophysics, Kyoto University, 1975
D.Sc. (Biophysics) Department of Biophysics, Kyoto University, 1980

The Membrane Cooperativity Unit tries to understand how cooperative molecular interactions in/on the plasma membrane enable the membrane to work. For this purpose, our unit is dedicated to (1) developing unique methodologies to observe single molecules at world-fastest frame rates and manipulate them at will in living cells, and (2) elucidating the mechanisms for the plasma membrane organization and function, with particular emphases on signal transduction and neuronal network formation, by extensively using single-molecule technologies.

To learn more about the Genomics and Regulatory Systems Unit (Nicholas M. Luscombe) visit the unit website
Nicholas Luscombe
BA (Honours), MA, The University of Cambridge
PhD, University College London

To function normally, organisms must ensure that genes are switched on and off at the right times and locations. Gene expression control is a complex process that requires the coordinated action of many regulatory biological molecules. Defects in the process can lead to many diseases, such as cancer. The Genomics and Regulatory Systems Unit combines computational and experimental methods to study principles of gene regulation during early organismal development.

To learn more about the Information Processing Biology Unit (Ichiro Maruyama) visit the unit website
Ichiro Maruyama
PhD, The University of Tokyo

All life, from bacteria to humans, senses and responds to its environment in various ways. The Information Processing Biology Unit explores how sensory organs detect external information, how neurons communicate, and how the brain processes information at the molecular level. Results of this research can improve our understanding of the mechanisms of cognitive diseases in humans, help in drug design, and lead to better computers, sensors and other information processing devices.

To learn more about the Developmental Neurobiology Unit (Ichiro Masai) visit the unit website
Ichiro Masai
BSc, MSc, PhD, the University of Tokyo

The Developmental Neurobiology Unit uses the zebrafish as a model system to study the mechanisms that control cell development and tissue building. OIST’s high-capacity aquarium system houses some 200,000 fish in 4,800 tanks to maintain mutant and transgenic lines of zebrafish for projects that investigate how the vertebrate retina develops.

To learn more about the Molecular Genetics Unit (Daniel Rokhsar) visit the unit website
Daniel Rokhsar
A.B. Princeton University
M.S. Cornell University
Ph.D. Cornell University

Research in the Molecular Genetics Unit has two major themes: (1) the exploration of deep evolutionary conservation and diversification of metazoan genomes, focusing on critical taxa to illuminate key transitions in the evolution of animals.  We use new approaches for sequencing and analyzing genomes to investigate the evolution of morphological and functional complexity, and (2) comparative genomics of cephalopods and the development of experimental systems for gene manipulation, visualization, and behavior, to understand how the complex nervous systems of cephalopods emerged independently of vertebrates, and the genomic underpinnings of their capacity for complex behaviors.

Current projects include the sequencing and analysis of the genomes of octopus and the direct developing hemichordate Saccoglossus; analysis of the genome structure of amphioxus and the starlet sea anemone, and the deep conservation of local and global gene linkage (synteny); and dynamic imaging of the developing pygmy squid body plan and nervous system.

Work in our unit combines comparative genomics, population genetic modeling, genetic mapping using high-throughput sequencing, and imaging to characterize the evolution of metazoan complexity.

To learn more about the Marine Genomics Unit (Noriyuki Satoh) visit the unit website
Noriyuki Satoh
PhD, The University of Tokyo

Sequencing the genomes of the major marine phyla helps explain relationships between organisms, both in terms of large-scale evolution and within their ecosystems. The Marine Genomics Unit’s ability to quickly sequence large genomes has made the lab the first to decode the genetic sequences of a coral and a mollusk. The Unit also has found evidence of a common ancestor that links humans to sea stars.

To learn more about the Plant Epigenetics Unit (Hidetoshi Saze) visit the unit website
Hidetoshi Saze
BSc MSc (Kyoto University)
PhD (Universitat Basel)

Genes dictate many aspects of how living things look and act, but genes are also controlled. Epigenetics, is the study of mechanisms that determine whether a gene is active or not, and thus whether it has any effect on an organism. The Plant Epigenetics Unit studies epigenetic regulation in Arabidopsis and rice. It is also improving traits of rice crops by applying genomic information obtained by high-throughput sequencing technology.

To learn more about the Evolutionary Neurobiology Unit (Hiroshi Watanabe) visit the unit website
Hiroshi Watanabe
B.S. (Tokai University)
M.S. (Tokyo Institute of Technology)
Ph.D. (Tokyo Institute of Technology)

The Evolutionary Neurobiology Unit investigates basic developmental and physiological nature of the nervous system. We study new experimental models of cnidarians and other basal metazoans with cutting-edge techniques in genetics and neuro-imaging. An ultimate goal of our unit is to provide new insights into our understanding of the early evolutionary processes of the cellular “neuronalization” and neural centralization.

To learn more about the Molecular Cryo-Electron Microscopy Unit visit the unit website
Matthias Wolf
MPharm, The University of Innsbruck
PhD, Brandeis University

The Molecular Cryo-Electron Microscopy Unit investigates the structure of macromolecular complexes with an emphasis on viruses, ion channels and membrane proteins. The Unit seeks better understanding of macromolecular functions that govern important processes such as infection and cellular signaling, as well as improvements in specimen preparation and image processing. In addition, the Unit explores novel techniques to obtain a detailed three-dimensional map of brain tissue at unprecedented resolutions.

To learn more about the Cell Signal Unit (Tadashi Yamamoto) visit the unit website
Tadashi Yamamoto
BSc, PhD, Osaka University

Using a mouse model, the Cell Signal Unit explores the cause of various diseases that include cancer, neuronal disorders, immunological diseases, and diabetes/obesity at the molecular level. Practically, the Unit studies biochemical reactions that cells use to respond to environmental cues with special emphasis on mechanisms by which unneeded RNA copies are destroyed to silence gene expression.

To learn more about the G0 Cell Unit (Mitsuhiro Yanagida) visit the unit website
Mitsuhiro Yanagida
DrSci., the University of Tokyo

The G0 Cell Unit investigates molecular mechanisms of cell regulations in division, called the vegetative cell cycle, and arrest, known as the G0 phase, using post-genomic methods in combination with genetic approaches. The Unit is also investigating the health benefits of Okinawan produce and the origins of Okinawan longevity.

To learn more about the Brain Mechanism for Behaviour Unit (Gordon Arbuthnott) visit the unit website
Gordon Arbuthnott
BSc PhD (Aberdeen)

The Brain Mechanisms for Behaviour Unit studies the over- or underproduction of dopamine, a reward chemical produced by certain neurons in the brain. Using techniques in physiology, molecular genetics, and anatomy to investigate dopamine’s role in neural systems, the Unit studies the basic mechanisms of how animals, including humans, interact with the world. The results are relevant to diseases ranging from addiction to Parkinson’s Disease..

To learn more about the Neural Computation Unit (Kenji Doya) visit the unit website
Kenji Doya
BS, MS, and PhD from The University of Tokyo
Research Associate, Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the Salk Institute (1993-1994)
Senior Researcher, Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR, 1994-2011)
Principal Investigator, OIST (2004-2011)
Professor, OIST Graduate University (2011-present)

Formerly at UC San Diego, the Salk Institute and the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories

The Neural Computation Unit develops algorithms that elucidate the brain’s mechanisms for robust and flexible learning. The Unit focuses on how the brain processes reinforcement learning, in which a biological or artificial agent learns novel behaviors in uncertain environments by exploration and reward feedback. Top-down computational approaches are combined with bottom-up neurobiological approaches to achieve these goals.

To learn more about the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit (Evan P. Economo) visit the unit website
Evan Economo
BSc, the University of Arizona
PhD, The University of Texas

Our research explores how ecological and evolutionary processes generate and sustain biodiversity, and how those processes are being altered by human activities. Toward that end, our lab integrates mathematical theory, field work, genomic sequencing, and ecoinformatics approaches to documenting and understanding biodiversity.  We have projects focusing on the dynamics of ant communities in the Pacific islands, global diversity patterns in ants, and the evolution of “hyperdiverse” radiations.  On a more local scale, we have recently established an environmental observation network across Okinawa to monitor local ecosystems (the OKEON Chura-Mori project), an effort we are pursuing in collaboration with the people of Okinawa.

To learn more about the Integrated Open Systems Unit (Hiroaki Kitano) visit the unit website
Hiroaki Kitano
BA, International Christian University
PhD, Kyoto University

Systems and computational approaches have emerged as critical elements of modern biology and medical science. The Integrated Open Systems Unit is developing software platforms to improve system drug design and therapeutic interventions. Its Garuda Alliance package ensures smooth operation among commonly used medical software programs, and the Units recent advances in molecular modeling could help predict the efficacy and side-effects of candidate drugs.

To learn more about the Protein Engineering and Evolution (Paola Laurino) visit the unit website
Paola Laurino
Ph.D. Organic Chemistry (ETH Zurich, 2011)
M.Ph. Medicinal Chemistry (Leiden University, 2007)
Master Degree (Laurea) Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Technology (Milan University)

The protein engineering and evolution unit learns from the evolution of proteins how to design new ones. The unit is focused on generating novel proteins that can perform reactions not present in nature and will allow studying metabolic pathways.  Our main aims are to understand how proteins work within their metabolic context, and to create useful tools for biocatalysts.

To learn more about the Ecology and Evolution Unit (Alexander Mikheyev) visit the unit website
Alexander Mikheyev
BA, Cornell University
MS, The Florida State University
PhD, The University of Texas

Evolution is the unifying principle of life sciences. Recent technological advances have revolutionized the way it is studied, providing new insights into historical questions. The Ecology and Evolution Unit utilizes cutting-edge technology to address a wide range of research questions. The Unit’s investigations have included coevolution of mutualists, landscape genetics of adaptation by herbivores to host plants, genomic changes in little fire ant castes that influence invasiveness, coevolution of leaf-cutting ants and their cultivated fungi, and proteomics of pit viper venoms. Future projects will employ massive sequencing of environmental samples and museum collections to link major themes in ecology and evolution.

To learn more about the Physics and Biology Unit (Jonathan Miller) visit the unit website
Jonathan Miller
BS, Yale University
PhD in Biology, The University of Cambridge (MRC LMB)
PhD in Physics, The California Institute of Technology

The Physics and Biology Unit develops physical science based tools aimed primarily at the study of biological systems. Major interests include genome evolution and population genomics, to obtain new insight into how genetic variation couples natural selection and evolution.

Simone Pigolotti
Ph.D. Statistical and Biological Physics (SISSA/ISAS, 2004)
Degree in Physics (University of Rome)

The Biological Complexity Unit studies how stochastic fluctuations affect the dynamics of biological systems. We are interested in phenomena ranging from accuracy of molecular reactions inside cells to population genetics of aquatic microorganisms transported by fluid flows. We aim at understanding the behavior of these systems by applying analytical techniques from non-equilibrium statistical mechanics and computational approaches.

Biological Complexity Unit (Simone Pigolotti)
To learn more about the Structural Cellular Biology Unit (Ulf Skoglund) visit the unit website
Ulf Skoglund
BSc, PhD, Stockholm University

The Structural Cellular Biology Unit combines microscopy and computation to visualize molecules and cellular structures in 3D. A 300 keV transmission electron microscope, Titan Krios, is used to understand the dynamics of macromolecules in situ and to investigate how they bind and interact with each other. This work has potential for drug delivery, as it offers molecular details of protein binding, virus structures, and receptor interactions in cell membranes.

To learn more about the Cellular & Molecular Synaptic Function Unit (Tomoyuki Takahashi) visit the unit website
Tomoyuki Takahashi
MD, PhD, Tokyo Medical and Dental University

The Cellular and Molecular Synaptic Function Unit strives to understand the mechanisms that regulate neurotransmitter release at synapses by studying the calyx of Held, a synapse large enough to enable simultaneous measurements of presynaptic and postsynaptic electrical signals. Insights into synaptic transmission should lead to a better understanding of neuronal communication.

To learn more about the Formation and Regulation of Neuronal Connectivity Research Unit (David Van Vactor) visit the unit website
David Van Vactor
BA, The Johns Hopkins University
PhD, the University of California, Los Angeles

The synapses in our brains communicate via chemical signals billions of times per second in order to sense and respond to the world around us. The Formation and Regulation of Neuronal Connectivity Research Unit studies the assembly and maintenance of healthy synapses, using the fruitfly model to explore the genetics regulating neural development.

To learn more about the Nucleic Acid Chemistry and Engineering Unit (Yohei Yokobayashi) visit the unit website
Yohei Yokobayashi
B.Eng. Department of Synthetic Chemistry, The University of Tokyo, 1994
M.Eng. Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology, The University of Tokyo, 1996
Ph.D. Graduate Program in Chemistry, The Scripps Research Institute, 2001

Nucleic acids DNA and RNA are fundamental building blocks of life. These biomolecules display remarkable chemical functions such as information storage, catalysis, and molecular recognition. Our goal is to harness the versatile chemistry of nucleic acids to design and engineer functional nucleic acids (DNA, RNA, and their synthetic analogs) that operate in test tubes, devices, and living cells.

To learn more about the Bioinspired Soft Matter Unit (Ye Zhang) visit the unit website
Ye Zhang
B.S. Nankai University
Ph.D. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Nature design materials as hierarchical architectures with complex composite structures spanning the nano to near-macro length scales to create unique combinations of properties that are often difficult to achieve with synthetic materials. The task of our research unit is to understand such amazing mechanisms and develop new man-made materials to mimic the structure, properties or performance of natural materials or living matters.