Yuichi Obata, Ph.D.
RIKEN was established in 1917 as a private foundation and is celebrating its centennial this year. In 1913, Dr. Jokichi Takamine, one of the most distinguished and leading scientists of Japan during the Meiji era, asserted that the world was moving toward the era of industry based on physics and chemistry, and urged Japan to establish a national research institute for the study of “pure physics and chemistry”. To realize this objective, Viscount Eiichi Shibusawa, a prominent businessman and industrialist, took the lead in establishing the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) with the launching of fourteen laboratories including those of Drs. Hantaro Nagaoka (atomic physics), Umetaro Suzuki (chemistry), and Kotaro Honda (material science). Funds were granted by the Imperial Family, with subsidies by the government and donations from the private sector. RIKEN has a proud history as the first research institute in Japan to recruit female scientists. In the years before World War II, RIKEN commercialized its inventions and established many private firms in a scheme similar to what we would now call venture companies, known at the time as the “RIKEN Konzern.” This group was dissolved after World War II but some of the individual companies still remain active, such as Ricoh Co. Ltd. and RIKEN VITAMIN Co., Ltd. After establishment as a private foundation, RIKEN became a private corporation in 1948 under the name Scientific Research Institute Ltd. (KAKEN). In 1958 RIKEN became a public corporation and in 2003 an Independent Administrative Institution. Finally, in 2015 it was designated as a National Research and Development Institute. Currently RIKEN is the largest and most prestigious research institute of our nation covering a wide range of sciences-informatics and mathematical sciences, physics, chemistry, and medical and life sciences. It not only conducts cutting-edge research, from basic science to applied, but also operates world-class research infrastructure including bioresources, the SPring-8 synchrotron facility, and supercomputers that are accessible for researchers inside and outside Japan.
On April 1, 2015 Dr. Hiroshi Matsumoto started his term as the president and at the same time RIKEN was designated as a National Research and Development Institute. President Matsumoto has set forth “the Initiative for Scientific Excellence” shown at http://www.riken.jp/en/pr/topics/2015/20150522_3/. RIKEN employees, including those of the BioResource Center (BRC), are all determined to realize the objectives of the president’s Initiative.
The RIKEN BRC was established in 2001 and has been engaged in the collection, preservation, quality control, and distribution of bioresources under the three principles of “Trust, Sustainability, and Leadership”. Bioresources, often referred to as biological resources, are essential experimental materials for life science research in the fields of basic biology, medical science, pharmacology, and agriculture. Besides, bioresources are needed for R&D that addresses the issues with a direct impact on people’s lives, such as promotion of health and enhancement in food and energy production. BRC handles a variety of bioresources indispensable for R&D: experimental mouse strains, model plants including Arabidopsis thaliana and Brachypodium distachyon, cell lines of human and animal origin, microorganisms, and genetic materials derived from these bioresources. We have been focusing bioresources developed mainly in Japan, and by this, we hope to become a unique facility serving the world. Furthermore, we have been selected to serve as the core facilities for the National BioResource Project (NBRP) started by the Ministry for Education Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) in 2002, while collaborating with other institutes providing 24 other categories of bioresources. The NBRP has been operated by the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development since FY 2015. After 15 years of operation, BRC has become one of the international hubs for bioresources. To date, we have provided 180,000 bioresources to 6,800 domestic institutions and 4,700 overseas institutions in 68 countries. Approximately 10 % of distributed BRC bioresources are contributed for academic papers and approximately 1% are used for patent acquisition.
Prof. Satoshi Omura was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of Avermectin and Prof. Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded the 2016 Prize for his research on autophagy. These outstanding achievements demonstrate our nation’s real strength in the life sciences. A variety of bioresources developed through their research, as well as the human-induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS cell) lines developed by Prof. Shinya Yamanaka, were deposited to BRC for distribution. As exemplified by these bioresources, BRC holds a great variety of valuable bioresources developed by Japanese scientists, which is a strong indication that our Center is trusted and supported by the research community.
RIKEN BRC is committed to functioning as a national and global research infrastructure hub, contributing to the advancement of the life sciences and to the sustainable development of humankind. We ask for your understanding and continued support.