The genome is the blueprint of an organism. The chromosomes and genes in all of our cells encode information about life. Genome editing technology to modify these chromosomes and genes is rapidly developing. From drug development and gene therapy, improving crops and livestock, to creating useful microorganisms to replace petroleum, this technology is beginning to have a major impact on our society.

Professor Keiji Nishida (Graduate School of Science, Technology and Innovation) has developed a new genome editing technology and established a venture company based on his research results. We are at the forefront of genome editing in both business and research.

Choose the road less traveled

Nishida: After five years of research in the United States, I returned to Japan and realized that my home country was lagging behind in genome editing technology. Although many people are involved in research using genome editing technology, there are not that many who are researching genome editing itself. Genome editing is a tool that affects all fields related to biology. Also, I chose this research field because I thought this research had the potential to complement other research at Kobe University.

Born in Kobe City. She studied evolution at the molecular level at the Department of Biological Sciences, Graduate School of Science, University of Tokyo, and earned her Ph.D. For five years from 2008, she continued her research at Harvard Medical School in the United States.

Nishida: The study of evolution examines the composition of past organisms. Many areas in this field have already been thoroughly covered by other researchers, so I needed to specialize further. I decided it would be a good idea to look for another field of study and shifted my research focus to synthetic biology, a growing discipline in the United States. Synthetic biology can be described as the process of mimicking evolution and creating living things. In the United States, I conducted research to add a mechanism to yeast cells that responds to magnetic fields. Effectively manipulating genes is an essential part of this, and I went through a complex and frustrating process. All roads led to genome editing research.


In 2013, he returned to Japan and took up his current position at Kobe University. He is currently collaborating with Professor Akihiko Kondo, Dean of the Graduate School of Science, Technology and Innovation, who is leading the research project at Innovative Bioproduction Kobe.

Nishida: Although I had the option of remaining at Harvard or returning to the University of Tokyo, I decided that Professor Akihiko Kondo's research team would provide the best environment to pursue my interests. When I first entered Kobe University, I did not have a specific research topic, but I decided to research the development of genome editing technology because I thought it would be a field that could complement many of Professor Kondo's research fields.

The year before he returned to Japan, the revolutionary gene editing technology CRISPR/Cas9 was developed.

Nishida: I am very impressed with the progress made in research. Ideally, CRISPR/Cas9 would slice the DNA at the target point and the DNA would be repaired into a new, altered form, but changes don't always go as planned and in some cases the target cells may become cytotoxic. may cause death. Aiming to realize genome editing technology that does not cut DNA, we have developed a new genome editing technology called “Target-AID” that uses deaminase enzymes. I have been interested in deaminase since I was in the United States.

It took more than two years in total from the start of the research to publication of the paper, but the technology was established after three to four months of experiments from conception to publication. Breakthroughs are relatively easy to make in unexplored research fields, so I think it is important for researchers to take on new research fields.

From research results to patents

On August 5, 2016, his paper was published in the online version of Science magazine and was reported in many media outlets in Japan. In April of the same year, the Kobe University Graduate School of Science, Technology and Innovation opened its doors. This graduate school conducts education and research in fields ranging from natural science to management fields such as intellectual property rights and finance, and aims to commercialize research results.

This cross-disciplinary approach came to fruition in February 2017 when Professor Nishida established a venture company based on his research. The name of his new biotech company is “Biopalette Co., Ltd.”

Nishida: When disseminating research results to society, I think it is important not only to publish papers, but also to clearly demonstrate their usefulness through companies and other organizations. The establishment of the Graduate School of Science, Technology and Innovation was the perfect timing for me, as I had wanted to turn my research results into a business since my stay in the United States. I don't think any other university would have been able to start a venture in such a short period of time.

Why it has to be international

In the United States, huge investments are being made in the genome editing business, while disputes over patent rights are intensifying. A sense of speed is required when raising funds and formulating intellectual property strategies. In May 2017, Professor Nishida received approximately 400 million yen in investment funds from a major fund headquartered in Boston, USA.

Nishida: For better or worse, our technology cannot stop beyond borders. We must view overseas markets as our main battlefield. It is necessary to understand the current state of the world regarding patents and intellectual property strategies, and to negotiate including partnerships with overseas universities and ventures. By collaborating with powerful funds whose main field is the United States, we would like to build a business structure that can be expanded globally.

Genome editing technology has the potential to be applied to various fields such as medicine, agriculture, and microbiology. Biopalette Co., Ltd. has started building its business and is currently selecting targets. I think university professors are in a very good position to work on business ventures. He hopes to continue contributing to society through both research and business.


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