Kristen returns home from Japan- the final blog post

Hi everyone,

My time in Japan has come to an end. I am saddened to leave this amazing country and my new friends and colleagues here at the PRI. It is not every day that one can spend a month-long internship across the Pacific Ocean at one of the leading research institutions for primate studies.

This week I finished my functional analysis experiments on the Mf-O haplotype of TAS2R38 in Japanese macaques. Again, the major questions are (1) why do Japanese macaques have such vast variation in the TAS2R38 gene? and (2) does the Mf-O haplotype serve a functional purpose? While it will take more work to definitively answer these questions, here is what I found during my internship in Dr. Imai’s laboratory. Overall, I found that the Mf-O haplotype displays a low sensitivity to PTC. Macaques are omnivores, eating over 200 species of plants, so perhaps additional variation at TAS2R38 allows for greater flexibility in diet and the ability to eat novel food sources during the winter months. The average winter temperature in Shimokita is around 30oF, but it can sometimes drop to -4oF. Thus, the climate can be harsh and food availability low. The Shimokita macaques are forced to rely on any food items they can find including dormant buds, acorns, and even bark. One type of berry that is available in the winter belongs to the species Vitis coignetiae, and it has a very bitter taste. Although the bitter compounds in this berry do not react with the TAS2R38 receptor, they may play a role in the greater repertoire of TAS2R genes. Alternatively, it is possible that the Mf-O haplotype does not play a functional role in the evolution of bitter taste: not every trait is present for a purpose. More research is needed to understand the ecological environment of Shimokita and to determine whether there is evidence of distinct food choices among individuals with different TAS2R38 genotypes. I learned a great deal in Dr. Imai’s laboratory during the past month. Functional analysis is a powerful method to test for gene and protein relationships, and gaining experience with this technique opens up new avenues for my master’s research at Kent. I can’t wait to get back into the lab!
Wednesday was my farewell party and we went to Urashima, a tofu café. We ate a ton of delicious food and laughed a lot. I will miss these fellow scientists – my new friends – wholeheartedly. Meeting others as passionate about the same things you are is a rare and wonderful experience. It’s difficult to put into words how much this opportunity has meant to me, but I will try my best here: My hosts at the PRI are the most welcoming people I have ever met.

Their hospitality always made me feel at home and comfortable during my stay in Japan. For this, I am forever grateful. The molecular biology lab works incredibly hard to uncover the mysteries surrounding primate evolution, and I am inspired by their passion for research. My travels around Japan have made my stay that much more enjoyable. From Osaka, to Nara, Kyoto, Nagoya, and Tokyo, I visited so many places on weekend trips, and I have seen that Japan is a country with vast natural beauty and a rich history. I am so deeply thankful for the opportunity to experience this wonderful country.

In addition to training in new molecular techniques, I have also experienced new personal growth during my time in Japan. Most importantly, I have made new international friendships with the members of the molecular biology lab, including students from Indonesia, China, Thailand, and, of course, Japan! And, being a solo traveler occasionally on weekends, I have learned to step outside my comfort zone – a journey in itself. My drive to keep learning and experiencing new things has grown even stronger after this magnificent opportunity. The knowledge and experience I’ve gained had added richly to my life.

I end this series of blog posts with a quote from the late Anthony Bourdain:

“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn. Maybe that’s the enlightenment enough – to know that there is no final resting place of the mind, no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom, at least for me, means realizing how small I am, unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”


One last time, thank you so much for your interest and support during my studies in Japan. Thank you for reading my blog posts every week and… matane!