takes Japan's int'l prize

Marine Biological Laboratory scientist's work on cell biology and video microscopy honored

By | September 22, 2003

Shinya Inoué, a distinguished scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Mass., has been awarded the 2003 International Prize for Biology from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) for his work in cell biology and video microscopy.

Inoué quelled a half century of debate when he proved the existence of spindle fibers while studying at Princeton in 1951 (S. Inoué, "Regulation of the submicroscopic organization of the mitotic spindle," Science, 114:685, December 28, 1951). He determined that spindle fibers form to pull apart chromosomes during mitosis, then disassemble between cycles of cell division; he later used electron microscopy to identify the molecules comprising the fibers as microtubules.

Inoué began his career studying cell structure and organization with Katsuma Dan at the University of Tokyo, where he used a microscope made from a machine gun barrel to show Emperor Showa, who reigned from 1926 to 1989, swimming sea urchin larvae. He joined MBL in 1978 and currently heads the Architectural Dynamics of Living Cells Program (ACLD) there. His recent work includes characterizing the anisotropy of green fluorescence protein, which provides a new method for studying chromophores, the chemical groups that absorb specific spectrums of light and cause molecules to glow certain colors.

"Shinya is among the more interesting people I've worked with," Grant Harris, a member of the ACLD research team, told The Scientist. "He is refreshingly curious."

Inoué has also done extensive work in the field of microscopy, including developing new methods of light microscopy as well as improving techniques in polarization microscopy. He pioneered the field of video microscopy and published a book on the subject in 1986. Each year he teaches a course at MBL entitled "Analytical and Quantitative Light Microscopy."

Recently, Inoué developed a centrifuge polarizing microscope (CPM) that he says will allow researchers to study fine structures in living cells with much greater detail. He is currently studying fertilized eggs and how they divide. "Using the CPM," Inoué said, "we can see how quickly a cell interior is changing following fertilization."

JSPS, originally founded in 1932 through a grant from Emperor Showa, was integrated into the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture in 1967 for the purpose of promoting and administering numerous research and education programs.

The International Prize for Biology has been awarded by JSPS annually since 1985 to commemorate Emperor Showa's reign and interest in biological research. Inoue was chosen from 41 scientists nominated from 14 countries to receive the prize in the area of cell biology, a field chosen by the selection committee.

"This is a real honor," said Inoué. "It's a real competitive prize. People like Seymour Benzer, E.O. Wilson, Peter Raven—these are the type of people who win this prize."

Inoué and members of his family from both the United States and Japan will attend the presentation ceremony, to be held on December 1 at the Japan Academy in Tokyo, which will be followed by a 2-day commemorative international symposium at the Nara-Ken New Public Hall in Nara.

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