15 Oct 2013

The Genes Behind My Pearls

Pearls are the only gems produced by living organisms. The academic journal, Zoological Science, published a special issue devoted to pearl oysters.  Dr. Takeshi Takeuchi of the OIST Marine Genomics Unit was the driving force behind this special issue.

The special issue is a summary of the research that originated from a research gathering, the Pearl Oyster Genome Jamboree, which was co-organized by the OIST Marine Genomics Unit and the University of Tokyo. A total of 60 mollusk experts gathered from across Japan at the OIST campus from May 31-June 2, 2011 and at the University of Tokyo from January 17-19th, 2012 to analyze the characteristics of the pearl oyster genome.

Dr. Takeuchi is an expert who has been working on pearl oysters since his graduate studies and worked as one of the main organizers of the Genome Jamboree. The participants of this research meeting compared the pearl oyster genome with those of other organisms to identify the kinds of genes present in the pearl oyster genome. Each participant carried out research projects on a gene related to their fields of expertise, for instance on shell and pearl formation dynamics or developmental biology. The results of these studies were then organized into this issue. Featured in this issue are research finding such as the identification of genes responsible for muscles unique to shellfish and genes regulating molluscan reproduction. These results provide a comprehensive set of data for future experiments on pearl oyster genes. 

In February 2012, the entire pearl oyster genome was decoded by researchers from OIST, University of Tokyo, and Mikimoto Co. Ltd., including Dr. Takeuchi. This and the study results from the special issue contribute to the production of stronger and more beautiful pearls. Additionally, these findings will benefit the field of material science, since advancements in the research of biological minerals such as shells and bones could lead to the creation of new materials such as ceramics. These new materials can be applied for improving treatments in areas such as dentistry and orthopedics.

Dr. Takeuchi commented, “It’s rare for people working on pearl oysters to come together in one place to work on a research project. I was delighted to see this gathering happen and to even publish a special issue of a journal.”

By Anna Ikarashi


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