All living things on the earth are maintained by the interactions and reactions between a great number of molecules, such as nucleic acids and proteins. Proteins, which are expressed according to information encoded within the genome, are the most important molecules for living systems, as they catalyze and direct nearly all of the necessary chemical reactions from which life springs.
In 1958, the Institute for Protein Research (IPR) was founded by the members of Osaka University Faculty of Science and Medical School to work on interdisciplinary studies of proteins in the fields of chemistry, biology, physics and medicine. The IPR was founded with only three divisions (laboratories):Organic Chemistry, Physical Chemistry and Protein Metabolism. Since that time the IPR has been at the cutting edge of new developments in protein science aimed at achieving an understanding of the mechanism of living systems – from the molecular level to organism level. Sixty years after its foundation, the IPR now consists of five divisions (17 laboratories) with an attached center, the Research Center for State-of-the Art Functional Protein Analysis (6 laboratories), which aims to develop and apply original techniques for the determination of protein structure and function.
Since its foundation, the IPR had previously worked as an inter-university joint-usage facility attached to Osaka University. In April 2010, the IPR was designated as one of the Joint Usage/Research Centers in Japan by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). In regard to its role as a Joint Usage/Research Center, the IPR offers the following three collaborative opportunities to help advance joint research activities in the protein science field: the “Collaborative Research Program”, the “International Collaboration Research Program” and the “Visiting Fellows Program”.
The IPR also manages access to a range of high performance equipment, such as the “Synchrotron Beamline at SPring-8”, the “High Magnetic Field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometers” and the “Advanced Cryo-Electron Microscopy Suite”, all of which are open to domestic and international protein science researchers to help support their research.
In addition, as one of the four members of the wwPDB (worldwide Protein Data Bank), the IPR operates the PDBj (Protein Data Bank Japan), which is involved in annotating and archiving all deposited protein structure data submitted by structural biologists in the Asian region as well as providing several original services and derived databases. The PDBj-BMRB also constructs and manages an NMR experimental database, in collaboration with the BMRB (BioMagResBank) located in the USA. The synchrotron radiation beamline at SPring-8 is operated by the IPR (BL44XU, IPR beamline) and through this role, the IPR has been actively collaborating with the National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center of Taiwan to establish a structural biology network throughout the Asia and Oceania region.
The IPR has also extensively organized a very large number of diverse international collaborative research projects with overseas protein scientists and institutions under the auspices of the “International Collaboration Research Program”.
Professors and academic staff at the IPR work very hard for their own scientific research, as well as for their educational activities directed towards teaching Osaka University students at the undergraduate level (placed within the Faculty of Science and Faculty of Medicine) and Master’s course and Doctor’s course students (placed within the Graduate school of Science, Graduate School of Medicine and Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences). From those faculties and graduate schools, about 100 students study within the laboratories of the IPR. In addition to this student cohort about 50 postdoctoral fellows make their own original investigations in support of various national and international funded research projects.
We regard these young scientists, who come to the IPR from countries all over the world, as important human resources of the IPR and they are expected to lead new protein science fields in the future.
Recently, the life science field has made dramatic developments. We are now on the cusp of developing a new protein science field that is capable of revealing the secrets of higher-order living systems through investigations of the interactions occurring between their networks of biological molecules. These functional studies are facilitated by knowledge of the biological molecules’ three dimensional atomic structures.
To actualize this future potential, we have to develop and combine a very large array of different techniques. The IPR has about 250 members, including scientific staffs, post-doctoral researchers, technicians, office staffs and students. With this IPR research cohort, we are in position to strive towards the development of this new type of protein science – one that represents a future approach to the life sciences based on the eradication of borders between laboratories, scientific fields, facilities and indeed countries, and most importantly, one that is capable of developing both the scientific breakthroughs and the important human resources of the next generation.