Nurturing citizens and scientists

During her scientific career, Professor Reiko Kuroda made sure to share her knowledge with citizens, for instance, being part of an advisory board to the Japanese Prime Minister on science and technology. This is even more significant now that Japanese society is questioning science in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident.

DiscovHER - Can you share more about the many initiatives, programs or organizations to which you have contributed throughout your career?

Reiko Kuroda - I was involved in International and domestic activities on environment, education, science policy such as ICSU as a vice president; the Council for Science and Technology Policy, an advisory board to the Prime Minister of Japan; the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Central Council for Education.

I have set up a minor-degree campus-wide graduate course, a science interpreter training program, at The University of Tokyo to nurture citizens with science literacy and scientists with social literacy.

These activities are important as science is inseparable from society. Recent scientific development has changed our social structures and even our cognition of human beings. At the same time, we need scientific and technological breakthroughs to solve various complex problems our one Earth confronts.

D/H - What do you think is the most urgent challenge facing our planet today?

RK - Climate change as a result of environmental deterioration, which influences our food production, increases natural disasters etc. ICSU - International Council for Science - of which I was the vice president until October 2011, is about to launch a great program, Future Earth, concerning these issues together with ISSC, IGFA, Belmont Foundation, UNESCO, UNEP and UNU.

D/H - And what about your home country, Japan?

RK - The local challenges that scientists are facing in Japan are mostly the reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake, Tsunami and accident of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, as well as rebuilding trust in science among general public.

D/H - Can you tell us more about your research findings?

RK - All living things on Earth are symmetrically one-sided, i.e., made up of proteins and DNA/RNA which utilize one and invariant handedness. Thus, handedness of molecules is vitally important to us as mirror-image molecules often display abnormal effect. When, why and how the handedness of biological world was determined is a key to investigate the origin of life on this planet. Further, utilizing the information associated with the handedness, we can reveal the structure and the dynamics of proteins and DNA/RNA. I have carried out frontier work on soli-state chiral chemistry to understand chiral recognition, creation, enhancement, as well as developed instruments which can measure soli-state chirality. I also worked on snail chirality, which is determined by a single gene locus. By mechanical manipulating embryos at a certain stage of early development, we could create healthy but mirror-image animals.

D/H - How would you like your work to affect society?

RK - I hope it helps our society realize the wonder of nature and it contributes to public health through understanding molecular basis of certain diseases and providing good drugs/agricultural chemicals/food additives.

D/H - And to close up this interview, what is your biggest hope as a scientist?

RK - For a short term, to identify the snail handedness-determining gene and reveal the mechanism which is common to all creatures including vertebrates. For a longer term, I hope to find causes and cures for diseases and to solve energy and food shortages so that people can live longer mentally and physically happily.

More about Reiko Kuroda:

For Women in Science

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