OIST Welcomes Professor Akihiro Kusumi
OIST welcomes new Professor Akihiro Kusumi, who heads the Membrane Cooperativity Unit. Kusumi has joined OIST as an adjunct professor while retaining his position at Kyoto University, after a long and successful career that has taken him to the Medical College of Wisconsin, the University of Tokyo, and Nagoya University. His work focuses on the cellular plasma membrane.
Kusumi’s fascination with cellular membranes was accidentally initiated when, while a senior majoring in physics, he entered a biology lecture on membranes. Prof Shun-ichi Ohnishi of Kyoto University was there explaining the Singer-Nicolson’s fluid mosaic model, and Kusumi instantaneously fell in love with such an idea. “That model tremendously stimulated my physics mind,” Kusumi recalls.
After a first post-doctoral research that focused on non-linear electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) and its application to the studies of molecular dynamics in reconstituted membranes, Kusumi underwent a second post-doctoral study during which he conducted research on cell-cell communications. In the meanwhile, he developed his love of the concept of time-resolved fluorescence measurements and single-molecule imaging in living cells under the microscope, both of which had not been even really considered possible or useful at that time.
These past experiences have contributed to shape the research that he is going to develop at OIST. “The focus of our Unit is to reveal the mechanism, particularly the one related to cooperative molecular interactions, by which the plasma membrane performs its function, such as signal transduction and neuronal network formation” Kusumi explains. “The plasma membrane is the outermost cellular membrane which encloses the entire cell; it is critically important for the cell – the fundamental unit of life – because it defines the space for it.”