Kent State Students to Collaborate With Kyoto University Researchers
Kent State University students in the College of Arts and Sciences will get the opportunity to travel to Japan to do collaborative research in a world-class institute, specializing in primate biology, thanks to a recently signed memorandum of understanding with the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University. By studying primates as a model for humans, the researchers hope to address a variety of topics, including evolutionary genetic analysis, Alzheimer’s disease and aggressive behavior.
The memorandum, signed by Kent State’s Todd Diacon, Ph.D., senior vice president of academic affairs and provost; James Blank, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; and Kyoto University's Takakazu Yumoto, Ph.D., director of the Primate Research Institute, lays the foundation for Kent State students to conduct summer internships under the guidance of Primate Research Institute faculty through July 2021. The effort was initiated by Hirohisa Hirai, Ph.D., previous director of the Primate Research Institute, and Anthony Tosi, Ph.D., assistant professor in Kent State’s Department of Anthropology.
Anthropology faculty members at Kent State have had collaborations with the Primate Research Institute for years, but recent visits by Mary Ann Raghanti, Ph.D., associate professor and interim chair of the department, and fellow professors Richard Meindl, Ph.D., and Tosi, as well as two student projects, invigorated the relationship and led to the memorandum of understanding.
In both of the last two summers, anthropology graduate students received fellowships from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) to participate in a collaborative research project at the Primate Research Institute. Both students benefited from not only having access to world-class facilities and faculty expertise, but also learned new techniques and new ways of addressing their research, all while immersing themselves into Japanese culture. Fewer than 200 students from the United States are accepted into the NSF-East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute (EAPSI) each year.
Emily Munger, a current anthropology doctoral student who earned her B.A. and M.A. from Kent State, participated in the NSF-EAPSI in 2015. Cody Ruiz, a current M.A. student in anthropology, participated in the same program in the summer of 2016. Both recently presented their experiences during Kent State’s International Education Week on the Kent Campus.
For Munger, both the cultural and laboratory experiences were “life-changing” and she gained important friendships and collaborators who she plans to work with in the future. She worked in the cognitive testing lab of Katsuki Nakamura, Ph.D., and studied the learning and memory abilities of aged marmosets to better understand how their brains age, which could be used as a biomedical model for Alzheimer’s disease.
“I’m very interested in learning and memory, and how the brain has changed to allow for increased memory and learning in humans,” Munger says.
She presented this work at conferences and recently submitted a paper to an academic journal. She also plans to use this work for her doctoral dissertation.
For Ruiz, the cultural experience was “truly memorable” and he gained “invaluable” molecular anthropology research experience while working in the lab of Masanori Imamura, Ph.D., at the Primate Research Institute. He studied the differences among Japanese macaque spermatogenesis genes on the protein level. At Kent State, he studies these same differences on the DNA sequence level.
Danielle Jones, a first-year M.A. student in anthropology, plans to go to the Primate Research Institute this summer to study how genetics contributes to levels of aggression among different macaque species. The work could contribute to our understanding of human pathological conditions that are associated with high levels of aggression and may lead to future therapeutic targets.
Raghanti and Tosi noted the many benefits that the students received by participating in the education-abroad programs.
“They’re building scientific collaborations at a young age, in a world-class research institute, which gives them a leg up on their peers,” Raghanti says.
“The international research experience instills them with far greater confidence in their abilities; it’s transformational,” Tosi adds.