Eiichiro Fukusaki entered a private company, Nitto Denko Co, after receiving master degree from Osaka University on 1985. He received PhD from Osaka University on 1993 through his company work. After ten years company experience, he returned back to Osaka University as an associate professor. On 2007 he has been assigned as a full professor in department of biotechnology, graduate school of engineering, Osaka University. He received several awards including; an Excellent Paper Award of the Society for Biotechnology, Japan [1993, 2003, 2007, 2009, 2012, 2015], the Japanese Society for Chemical Regulation of Plants Award for the Encouragement of Young Scientists. ; the Society of Biotechnology, Japan ‘Saito’ Award ; the Society of Biotechnology, Japan Achievement Award ; Excellent Paper Award of Division of Chemical Information and Computer Science, The Chemical Society of Japan . He was assigned as a life-time honorary fellow of Metabolomics International Society . His current research interests are focusing on development and application of metabolomics technology. He has published over 300 original papers and 50 patents. He is focusing on not only fundamental science but also practical application. Particularly he facilitates research collaboration with private companies in the several fields including food, chemical, pharmaceutical, analytical etc. He is also energetically promoting international education and research collaboration. Recently he has participated double degree program in graduated school level between Osaka University and several foreign universities.
1. When and why did you start using metabolomics in your investigations?
After graduating from Osaka university, I was engaged in research on large scale practical synthetic processes of bioactive substances in a private company. After 10 years company experience, I received an offer from Osaka University to become an associate professor in 1995. My new boss at Osaka University was a specialist in analytical chemistry and natural product organic chemistry. He strongly required me to do the two things. One was not to continue the synthetic chemistry research I had been doing at the company, but to start something completely new from scratch. The second was that the new research should be centered on analytical chemistry. Therefore, I decided to focus on biosynthesis, which is an organic synthetic reaction in living organisms, and to develop new technologies for the comprehensive analysis of organic compounds, which are biosynthetic products, as my new research subject. After much trial and error, I decided to focus on metabolomics research, which is what I am doing now, from around 2000.
2. What have you been working on recently?
Since 2000, I have been conducting technology-driven application research in various fields using GC/MS, LC/MS, and NMR. In order to maintain good relationships with prestigious collaborative clients, I have avoided having our own research samples as much as possible. As a result, my research targets have been extremely wide-ranging, including basic biology, medicine, drug discovery, microbiology, fermentation production, and food. However, based on the idea that selection and concentration are necessary to become a first-rate researcher, I gradually narrowed down my research targets to food and fermentation. Recently, I have concentrated especially on applications based on comprehensive analysis of volatile metabolites in foods.
3. During your career you have worked in both industry and academia; what are the main differences working in these environments? What are the skills gained through your experience in the industry that benefits the academic process?
There may be exceptions, but the basic difference is that corporate research is technological development for the pursuit of profit, while research in academia is aimed at the search for truth and the training of future generations. Corporate research always prioritizes speed while considering the 3C's (Company, Customer, Competitor). The most important thing I learned in the corporate world is the "sense of speed". The ancients said, “It is better to be rough fast than to elaborate slowly". Even now, I conduct my research and education based on the principle.
4. Since you are an expert in food metabolomics method development and application, are there any challenges applying metabolomics in food samples? How did you overcome this challenge?
First, I had a hard time maintaining the freshness of food samples. I often worked with perishable foods such as fruits and seafood from overseas, and I had great difficulty in finding ways to import food samples from overseas with minimal deterioration. To solve this problem, I spent a lot of time optimizing sampling, storage, and logistic methods. Needless to say, I was supported by the dedication of our international collaborators. Another important aspect of food metabolomics is the food-derived response variable, which is necessary to construct regression prediction models using metabolomes as explanatory variables. Especially in the case of secondary functions of foods, I had a great deal of difficulty in obtaining reproducible sensory evaluation data. At first, I depended on my collaborators who provided food samples for sensory evaluation, but recently, I have started to conduct sensory evaluation of various foods in my own laboratory.
5. We are interested in one of your recent projects about contributing to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDG) (https://handaifoodloss.otri.osaka-u.ac.jp/), Could you explain in detail how metabolomics could contribute to this matter?
As you mentioned, I started the "Food loss and waste reduction innovation Hub" project with the support of JST last fiscal year. This project is a collaborative effort to develop new technologies such as "development of rapid monitoring technology for food functions" , "development of smart data logger system" and "development and utilization of zero-waste recycling food materials". In addition to the challenges of developing new technologies, the project is also involved in social science research projects such as "Building a sustainable socio-economics system through ethical consumption". The project is a large-scale fusion of the humanities and sciences, including research projects such as "Developing human resources for food solutions and creating opportunities through interactive international education programs". Food metabolomics technology targeting volatile metabolites is positioned as an important core competence technology in this project.
6. Do you have any advice for early career researchers that interested to be involved in food metabolomics?
As I mentioned earlier, for successful food metabolomics, in addition to metabolomics techniques, "sample freshness maintenance techniques" and "procurement of useful response variables for social demand" are important. To achieve these goals, I think it is necessary to be constantly aware of global needs and to make diplomatic efforts to obtain the best collaborative research partners. Food research is more difficult to obtain research funds than medical research, but it is important to research that is indispensable for the future of the world. I hope that more young people will enter food metabolomics research.