Tatsuya Hirano

Born: 1960 | Chiba, JP

Tatsuya Hirano was born in Chiba, Japan. He entered Kyoto University intending to study physics, but became interested in molecular biology. He was unaffected by his professors, finding undergraduate education self-directed, not instructor-led. As is common in Japan, Hirano remained at Kyoto for graduate school, working in Mitsuhiro Yanagida's laboratory on the genetics of chromosome structure in fission yeast. Knowing options were limited at home, Hirano went abroad for his postdoc. He chose to study with Timothy J. Mitchison-someone Hirano considered one of the brightest cell biologists of his age-at University of California, San Francisco, working on chromosome condensation and the condensin complex. From there, he accepted a position at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where he continued his research on condensin and cohesion.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0464
No. of pages: 82
Minutes: 285

Interview Sessions

Andrea R. Maestrejuan
11-12 and 13 December 2002
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, New York

Abstract of Interview

Tatsuya Hirano was born and raised in Chiba, Japan—a fishing village and an agricultural suburb of Tokyo—the youngest of three siblings. Hirano's father was a civil servant who educated local farmers about methods in agricultural production, obtaining his doctoral degree later in life and, after retiring from civil service, becoming faculty at the University of Tokyo; his mother was a housewife. Hirano's childhood, according to him, was rather typical; he had an early interest in the arts (he liked drawing and carpentry). He excelled in school and decided to pursue a college education in science. He entered Kyoto University intending to study physics, but interest in contemporary advances in molecular biology pulled him much more in that direction. He was unaffected by his professors during college, as, according to Hirano, undergraduate education in Japan was much more self-directed than instructor-led. In this spirit, graduate students, unlike in the United States, usually stayed at the same university for their graduate degree as their undergraduate and only applied to a specific lab in which to work for graduate study (unlike the rotation system in the United States); Hirano remained at Kyoto University and worked in Mitsuhiro Yanagida's laboratory on the genetics of chromosome structure in fission yeast. Since there were no postdoctoral positions available in Japan, and even fewer faculty positions, Hirano decided, like many of his fellow graduate students, to undertake a postdoctoral fellowship abroad. Wanting to broaden his experience in his field, Hirano decided that he wanted to work in the United States and chose to study with Timothy J. Mitchison—someone Hirano considered one of the brightest cell biologists of his age—at the University of California, San Francisco. Hirano worked on chromosome condensation and the condensin complex in Mitchison's lab, all the while adjusting to American life and culture. From there, he accepted a position at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, where he continued his research on condensin and cohesion. During the interview, Hirano talks about his wife's role in his lab (she worked as a technician in several Japanese and American labs before joining his own), and balancing his career with his family life. In addition, he regularly compares the American and Japanese scientific systems, talking about the "brain-drain" issue and its impact on Japanese science. As the interview concludes, Hirano discusses the impact of cultural diversity on science; his mentoring style and its relationship to the mentoring he received; the privatization of science; and the role of the scientist in public policy. At the end of the interview, he speaks more about how he met his wife and about her career; the future direction of chromosome dynamics; and being an award recipient of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1984 Kyoto University BA Biology
1989 Kyoto University PhD Molecular Biology

Professional Experience

Kyoto University

1989
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Biophysics

University of California, San Francisco

1989 to 1993
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Pharmacology
1993 to 1995
Postgraduate Research Pharmacologist, Department of Cellular

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

1995 to 1996
Senior Staff Investigator
1996 to 1998
Assistant Investigator
1998 to 1999
Associate Investigator
1999 to 2003
Associate Professor
2003
Professor

State University of New York at Stony Brook

1995
Member, Graduate Program in Genetics

Honors

Year(s) Award
1989

Fellowships of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciencefor Japanese Junior Scientists

1989 to 1991

The Anna Fuller Fund Postdoctoral Fellowship

1992 to 1995

Leukemia Society of America Special Fellowship

1996

Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Grant

1996

Recipient, NIH R01 Grant (GM53 926)

1998 to 2001

Recipient, Human Frontiers Science Program Research Grant

2001

Recipient, NIH R01 Grant (GM63545)

2005

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Table of Contents

Childhood and Undergraduate Years
1

Parents and siblings. Growing up in rural Chiba, Japan. Parental expectations. Childhood interests. Early schooling. Family background. Influential junior high school teacher. The Japanese educational system. Decision to go to Kyoto University. College entrance. Change of interest from physics to molecular biology. College extracurricular activities.

Graduate School and Postdoctoral Years
17

Attends graduate school at Kyoto University to study chromosome structure. College laboratory experience. Graduate program in Japan. Graduate work in Mitsuhiro Yanagida's laboratory on the genetics of chromosome structure in fission yeast. The structure of Japanese laboratories. Yanagida' s mentoring style. Postdoctoral fellowship in Timothy J. Mitchison's laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco. Work on chromosome condensationand the condensin complex. Impressions of San Francisco

Faculty Years
38

Accepts a position at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Research on condensin and cohesion. Setting up his laboratory. Teaching. His wife's role in the lab. Views of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Tenure. The process of doing science in Japan and in the United States. Reasons for fewer students pursuing science asa career.

Final Thoughts
62

Cultural diversity and science. Impact of funding on setting research priorities. Broader applications of his work. The privatization of science. The peer-review system. The role of the scientist in public policy. Balancing his personal life and career. His wife's career. The future direction of chromosome dynamics. Impact of the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences on his work.

Index
80

About the Interviewer

Andrea R. Maestrejuan