Yasushi Hiromi

Born: February 1954 | Osaka, JP

Yasushi Hiromi was born in Kaizuka City, Japan. At the University of Tokyo he worked on Drosophila genetics in Yoshiki Hotta's lab and decided to study biology. He continued in Hotta's lab for graduate school. There he met Walter Gehring, later taking a postdoc in his lab. He discovered the ftz gene, leading to an interest in the central nervous system. He accepted a second postdoc in Corey Goodman's lab at Stanford and then UC Berkeley, where he worked with Chris Doe on the seven-up gene, which he took with him when he joined the faculty at Princeton University. Now, he looks forward to returning to Japan, where there is less emphasis on grant-writing, and he can exploit the joy he feels in solving problems.

Access This Interview

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0434
No. of pages: 65
Minutes: 241

Interview Sessions

Andrea R. Maestrejuan
21-22 November 1996
Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

Abstract of Interview

Yasushi Hiromi was born in Kaizuka City, in Osaka Prefecture, Japan, the elder of two sons. His father was a biochemist and his mother a housewife. When Yasushi was about ten his father took a postdoc at Yale University, and the family lived in New Haven, Connecticut, for a year. There the two boys learned to speak idiomatic English. As a youngster Yasushi was fascinated by figuring out how things work. He was always good in mathematics and liked physics and chemistry. This desire to understand things is what drew him to science. When he entered the University of Tokyo his declared major was physics, but in his last year he did a rotation in Drosophila genetics in Yoshiki Hotta's lab, and he decided to become a biologist. In Japan it is usual to stay in the same lab for graduate school, and Yasushi liked Drosophila genetics, so he stayed in Hotta's lab. There he worked on phosphorylation and eclosion, and he found the heat shock response at room temperature. While in that lab he met Walter Gehring, in whose lab in Switzerland he took a postdoc. There he discovered the ftz (fushi tarazu) gene (fushi tarazu means "not enough segments"). This led to his career interest, the developing central nervous system. He accepted a second postdoc in Corey Goodman's lab at Stanford and then UC Berkeley, where he worked with Chris Doe on the seven-up gene, which he took with him when he joined the faculty at Princeton University. He wanted to learn about the relationship between ligand and receptor and how that relationship influenced the function of a gene. Each round of experiments required three or four months. He did this for five years, never obtaining the dispositive result for which he hoped. He did, however, get publications in very good journals. Although he is going back to Japan, to the National Institute of Genetics, he says he still prefers to do risky science. Hiromi still works at the bench. He likes a small lab because he then does have time to work at bench, rather than overseeing lab members. He looks forward to the challenge of a different system of doing science in Japan, where there is less emphasis on grant-writing, and he can exploit the joy he feels in solving problems. He will take the seven-up gene and a postdoc back with him; this person will have the position of joshu. Hiromi makes a point of having dinner and spending the early evenings and some weekend time at home with his wife and children. Balancing this time away from the lab with this family time means often working in the middle of the night, but he believes it is important to be with his family as much as he can.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1976 University of Tokyo BS
1978 University of Tokyo MS
1982 University of Tokyo PhD

Professional Experience

University of Tokyo

1982 to 1983
Postdoctoral Fellow

University of Basel

1983 to 1986
Postdoctoral Fellow

Stanford University

1987
Postdoctoral Fellow

University of California, Berkeley

1988 to 1990
Postdoctoral Fellow

Princeton University

1990 to 1996
Assistant Professor
1996
Visiting Professor

National Institute of Genetics

1996
Professor

Honors

Year(s) Award
1978 to 1981

Predoctoral Fellowship, Nihon-Ikueikai, Japan

1982 to 1983

Postdoctoral Fellowship, Japanese Society for Promotion of Science

1987 to 1989

Postdoctoral Fellowship, American Cancer Society, California Division

1991 to 1995

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Parents and brother. Growing up in Japan. Father a biochemist. A childhood year at Yale University. Liking to solve problems. Liking physics and chemistry. Good at mathematics. Long commute to the competitive junior high school. Learning photography from father. Competitive high school, mathematics and science curriculum.

College Years
3

Attends University of Tokyo, as it is the best university in Japan. Physics major. Rotation in Drosophila genetics causes him to switch to biology in graduate school. Works in Yoshiki Hotta's lab.

Graduate School Years
5

Customary to stay in same lab for graduate school. Phosphorylation and eclosion. Heat shock response at room temperature.

Postgraduate Years in Japan
19

One and one-half years in Hotta's lab. Molecular analysis. Meets Walter Gehring. Ftz ("not enough segments") gene in Drosophila neurogenesis. Transgenic animals not allowed in Japan. The jonshu position. Marriage.

First Postdoc
13

Goes to Z├╝rich, Switzerland, to Gehring's lab. Discovers large Drosophila genetics population in world. Collaborates with Corey Goodman's student Chris Doe at University of California, Berkeley.

Second Postdoc
17

Goes to Goodman's lab to enhance collaboration. Takes ftz gene with him. Discovery of seven-up gene. Publications slow but in excellent journals

Faculty Years
38

Accepts assistant professorship at Princeton University. Continues study of central nervous system in Drosophila. Wants to find ligands for new receptors, but wants even more to understand the relationship between the interaction of the ligand and receptor and the biological function of the gene.

General Thoughts
48

About to go back to Japan's National Institute of Genetics. Differences between American and Japanese systems of science. Writing grants. Publishing. Joy of benchwork. Sharing his life with wife and children.

Index
64

About the Interviewer

Andrea R. Maestrejuan