Interview with a corporate partner

How we used chromosome engineering technology: Part 2

Yoshihiro Ohmiya

National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST)
Director of the Biomedical Research Institute

National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST)
Director of the Biomedical Research Institute
Visiting Professor, Graduate School of Medicine, Hokkaido University
Visiting Professor, Tottori University Chromosome Engineering Research Center
Completed his Doctor's degree in Endocrinology at the Gunma University Graduate School of Medicine in 1990. Assumed his current post in April 2012 after holding various positions such as special researcher at the Osaka Bioscience Institute,
researcher in the “Sakigake Research 21 Light and Chemical” Creative Individual Research Project carried out by the Research Development Corporation of Japan,
Assistant Professor in the Shizuoka University Faculty of Education,
Group Manager in the AIST Cell Engineering Research Institute,
Professor in the Graduate School of Medicine, Hokkaido University, and Principal Researcher in the AIST Genome Factory Research Institute

I was greatly astonished by what Dr. Oshimura told me.

What research were you conducting before you met Dr. Oshimura?

My research involves glowing organisms, or more properly termed bioluminescent organisms. There are many different ways for organisms to emit light, and they emit a variety of different colors. You probably already know fireflies and sea-fireflies. These are the types of organisms I study. I have made many clones of luciferase, an enzyme that these organisms use to emit light.
In particular, I had collected luciferases emitting all sorts of colors and was considering how to apply them when I met Dr. Oshimura.

What motivated you to pursue chromosome engineering collaboration?

I had numerous bioluminescent genes, but my greatest challenge was that technology at the time only enabled insertion of single genes into cells. This was a major obstacle. When hearing my concern, Dr. Oshimura told me that it was possible to insert many genes. I was greatly astonished, and decided I would try inserting the numerous genes I had collected into cells using artificial chromosome vectors.

What have you accomplished using artificial chromosomes (chromosome engineering technology)?

The research I was conducting for that project at the time involved assessing chemical substances. When cells are exposed to chemical substances, they respond in a number of ways. Previously, only one type of information could be obtained from the response, but we wanted to see multiple types of information. For example, we created technology that could relay multiple pieces of information, such as a cell for assessing toxicity that glows red to show dangerous levels and green to show safe levels.

What do you like about chromosome engineering technology?

Artificial chromosome vector technology is unique. It has two major benefits. One, to repeat from the answer to the previous question, a major plus is the ability to insert multiple genes.
Two, since inserted genes will always be foreign substances, and the influence of various factors may cause such genes to malfunction, the ability to completely circumvent this problem is a huge benefit of chromosome engineering technology.
I believe these benefits are the most significant. This technology enables transmission of a lot of information, and that information is stable. I believe these are the two greatest benefits of this technology.

How will you be able to use this technology in the future?

I want to use the technology in all sorts of ways. Take drug discovery research, for example. In our research division, we are working on drug discovery research. We need to create technology that will be the foundation for this research. This means that it is absolutely essential for us to learn the effectiveness of medicines early on.
For example, when creating a drug, cells respond in various ways. When exposed to one type of stimulus, a number of different pathways are set in motion, transmitting information. In the past, we could only obtain one type of information, but with artificial chromosome vectors we can obtain multiple types of information at the same time. This knowledge tells us which pathway is used to transmit a stimulus so that we can efficiently find chemicals. While we were previously only able to obtain one type of information, we can now obtain multiple types at the same time. We believe it may therefore be possible to provide all sorts of information, such as the safety and effectiveness of drugs and even forecasts . If this is indeed possible, we believe that providing multiple types of information at once could potentially accelerate the drug discovery process. Another possibility we are considering is using the technology to assist in cancer diagnoses. As a major personal dream of mine, I also think it would be very interesting if we could create “glowing street-side trees”, for example. We could transplant artificial chromosome vectors into plants to put the exact same bioluminescence mechanism of fireflies, as a whole, into trees. As I just mentioned, artificial chromosomes can be used to insert multiple types of information that we are able to control. Considering this, I feel that even the possibility of glowing street-side trees does not have to remain simply a dream forever. In this way, I feel that artificial chromosomes have the power to change the future.

“Glowing street-side trees”are no longer a dream. Artificial chromosomes can change the future.