Success in Recovery and Accumulation of Rare Metals Using Coliform Bacteria


Kaneyoshi Yamamoto, Professor

Department of Frontier Bioscience, Faculty of Bioscience and Applied Chemistry, Hosei University

Posted Feb. 4, 2019

Faculty Profile

Professor Kaneyoshi Yamamoto is a researcher on bacteria genome biology, especially comprehensive genome expression on Escherichia coli stress response.
His effort on basic genome biological research has made novel patentable technologies.

Understanding Genome Function using Escherichia coli as a Model Bacteria

I am studying genome biology , specializing biology in the genome. A genome is a complete set of genes in organism. Each organism has a large number of genes. The genes do not function independently but in collaboration, indicating the sophisticated biological functions. To understand genome function by total of genes, we study a model bacteria Escherichia coli because E. coli genome has the limiting number of genes, about 4,500 in comparison to about 30,000 genes of human genome.

The subject matter of my research is E. coli. Most people think that E. coli is of unfriendly bacteria because of disease-causing microbe. Human being use E. coli as a model organism to clear biological function and establish modern Molecular Biology on 20 century. On early 21 century, the following research efforts made all DNA sequence on genome clear for e.g. bacteria, warm, insect, plant and animal including human.

There is still much we do not know about genes, and especially genomes. In order to shed truths of biological sciences, it is essential to have validation processes: setting hypotheses, and pursuing repeated experimentation and observation over time. Several organisms take time to breed or are difficult to obtain or maintain for stable breeding. Bacteria including E. coli, however, can survive not only in the animal intestine but in several environments. Thus it is easy to breed E. coli. E. coli are outstanding “model” organisms for research purposes.

I learn more about how bacteria live through my research. Bacteria is a unicellular organism. I sense life force from simple organism bacteria; the biological strength to adapt to changes and live on in any environment they are exposed. I am, therefore, so enthralled by bacteria including E. coli.

Academic Society Prize: A Turning Point toward Applied Research

My favorite among the natural sciences is biology, and I have long been engaged in basic research to uncover the fundamental principles of organisms. In 2013, my project titled “Comprehensive genome expression network of Escherichia coli” was awarded the Japan Bioscience, Biotechnology and Agrochemistry Society Award for the Encouragement of Young Scientists.

This award was a turning point for me. The answers I had come up with were evaluated positively by others, and this inspired me to take the next step of adding an applied approach to my research.

How can I make use of the bacterial genome functions effectively to be useful in human society? Firstly, we focused bacterial responsiveness to metals.

Metals are essential for organisms to live only in extremely small quantities but excessive intake is harmful. This is true for all organisms including human and bacteria. There are genes that have the capacity for regulation of the metal concentration within an organism (metal homeostasis). Among the 4,500 genes in E. coli genome, I found the simple response to molybdenum and other rare metals. I also thought that it might be possible to recover and accumulate rare metals only using genome recombinant E. coli. This hypothesis was verified, and I was able to construct a biological technologies for recovery and accumulation of rare metals using E. coli, and apply for a patent on it.

I expect applications of this technology to lead to advancements in many fields in the future, such as enabling rare metals to be extracted from sea water domestically and helping to improve the global environment by recovering phosphorus, zinc, and other environmental pollutants in industrial wastewater. I am now working on research toward commercialization with a corporate partner.

Straying and Searching When Young: The Basis for Today’s Success

As an undergraduate and graduate student I majored in Agricultural Chemistry, a field which applies the strengths of chemistry to research on agricultural topics, such as developing agrochemicals and fertilizers, and learning about brewing through the mechanisms of fermentation and maturation.

At the time, my interests lay in biotechnology. But most classes I took were often related to chemistry, and there were few classes that dealt with biotechnology on my Univeristy. I was fortunate to gain a place as a fourth-year undergrad in the biochemistry laboratory of Professor Ryutaro Utsumi, who is researcher on Molecular Biology related to DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and proteins.

The topic I pursued as an undergraduate was the development of new antibiotics. I earned my degrees by this research.

In the course of my research I learned of the emergence of pathogens that were resistant to antibiotics, and realized that scientific applications were not perfect. Science is certainly useful, but isn’t complete in the application of science. I gained the opportunity to do basic biological research in the laboratory of Professor Akira Ishihama at the National Institute of Genetics. It was this experience that led me to where I am today.

After moving to the Faculty of Bioscience and Applied Chemistry at Hosei University, I happened to join the same department as Professor Akira Takatsuki, who works in the field of Agricultural Chemistry. His encouragement helped me to pursue the research that led to my award from the Japan Society for Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Agrochemistry. I turned back to my forgotten field of Agricultural Chemistry. I feel that this was a turning point that made me rethink the research I should be doing at Hosei Univeristy. Today, I am continuing my research with students in my lab, stimulated not only by other researchers in my department but also by those from other departments within the Faculty of Bioscience and Applied Chemistry and other faculties as well, including at the Koganei Campus and Research Center for Micro-nano Technology.

Research Nourished by Hosei’s Culture of Respect for Freedom and Diversity, and Phronesis

I believe that “Science” and “Technology” are different. “Science” is about making truth sense of the unknown, while “Technology” is about applying scientific truth in human being. Hosei’s concept of “phronesis” encapsulates an approach that respects both “Science” and “Technology”.

I continue to gain much positive stimulation from research activity at Hosei Univeristy, which gives students the freedom to think for themselves and respects diversity with their professors. I feel that this environment underpins my motivation to do research in bioscience.

Kaneyoshi Yamamoto, Professor

Department of Frontier Bioscience, Faculty of Bioscience and Applied Chemistry, Hosei University

Born in Osaka in 1973.

Graduated from the Department of Agricultural Chemistry, Faculty of Agriculture, Kindai University, completed the master’s program in the Graduate School of Agriculture at the same university, and withdrew with full credit from the doctoral program in March 2000. Awarded the Ph.D in Agriculture in March 2001.
Previous appointments include visiting researcher in the University of Birmingham School of Biosciences, Associate Professor in the Hosei University Faculty of Bioscience and Applied Chemistry, and visiting researcher in the University of Warwick School of Biological Science. Professor in the Hosei University Faculty of Bioscience and Applied Chemistry since 2014.
Research area is genome biology.