Dr. Shinzato Wins Rocky Challenge Prize

Award recognizes Okinawans for their outstanding dedication and accomplishments

Dr. Chuya Shinzato, a group leader of the Marine Genomics Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), has received this year’s Rocky Challenge Prize for his distinguished scientific accomplishments as a coral researcher. The Rocky Challenge Prize, founded in 2010 by Iwao Nakamura, the former president of Nissan Diesel Motor Co. from Naha, is awarded to Okinawan individuals or groups in recognition of their passion and achievements in a specific field. Shinzato is the sixth recipient.

"I am deeply honored and grateful to receive the prestigious award. I will continue to try my best to inspire younger generations in Okinawa," said Shinzato upon receiving the prize. An award ceremony took place on May 29 at the University of the Ryukus, where he gave a keynote lecture to a packed audience.

Shinzato’s major scientific accomplishments include decoding the coral Acropora digitifera genome in July 2011 and the algae Symbiodinium minutum in July 2013, as well as the simultaneous genetic sequencing of the host Porites australiensis coral and its symbiont algae in January 2014. Working with the Okinawa Prefectural Government on coral conservation, he established a technique in May 2014 that enables scientists to study genetic diversity and connectivity among the Acropora coral populations using DNA markers. He has filed a patent on this technique.

Shinzato became interested in studying biology following a family trip to the Kerama islands during his elementary school years. There, he encountered beautiful coral reefs and schools of fish swimming in the water. At Kyoto University’s School of Agriculture, he studied bivalves, including oysters and mussels, to find out how they responded to environmental changes. With the striking picture of the coral reefs still lingering his memory, he decided to pursue a Ph.D. study on corals at James Cook University in Australia in 2003. He joined OIST in 2008 as a post-doctoral researcher.

By Kaoru Natori

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