| Q. What do you think should be done to make science more relevant?
I must admit that I am not good at teaching. I tend to lose myself in what is important and interesting to me. Genomes have been mapped for the first time in our history, and I really enjoy thinking about them. And I tend to imagine that everyone else must have the same opinion as mine, that others will like what I like.
I do not force people to come to this hall, or teach those who are not interested in the subject. But I believe that there are a lot of people who have similar interests to mine, and if there is a place where they can go to learn more about genomes, they can get the same enjoyment I do. The Biohistory Research Hall was built because I wanted to work at such a site.
The research centre is a hall. It is neither a school nor a laboratory but a research hall. For instance, music lovers gather at a concert hall, and top-class musicians perform there and enjoy themselves. Musicians are people who receive a lot from music, and an ordinary person like me listens to their performance and gets involved in the music, too. People who aren't interested in music may not be able to experience it, but the musicians give the visitors their best performance with sincerity. That is a concert hall. I thought that it would be really nice if there were a place like that for science.
Thinking of how better to communicate our passion to our visitors, we have decided to do research on ground beetles. We want to know how such a wide variety of features has evolved among different creatures, and how in today's world, where all life is related, each species has developed. Of course, our biggest interest is still in humans, but the purpose of the hall is not to study the subject directly. We chose insects as the best subject because they have the greatest diversity. It is estimated that 50 million different species of fauna exist on Earth today, more than half of which are insects.
A new "Biohistory" was drawn up by Makoto Wada for the celebration of the hall's tenth anniversary. The bottom part depicts the period of about 3.8 billion years ago, when the first life appeared on Earth. Since then, all the way to the present day, various creatures have been born, and they have formed such a biologically rich world. The drawing indicates that every lifeform is related. When the hall was opened, we had another version of the drawing, but some information was missing. One piece of missing information was the Earth itself. In Mr. Wada's drawing, you can see the geological changes in the planet over a certain time period. Creatures lived either on the ground or in the oceans; therefore information about the transformations of the ground and seas is very important. Also, the light blue part corresponds with the glacial period, when there were mass extinctions, and at the top are today's creatures. Population is indicated by the size of the sample, and that's why insects, which have a lot of varieties, are drawn bigger than mammals. As you can see, insects are a symbol of diversity. And since insects are small and easier to collect, they are often used for all kinds of research purposes as well.
Insects were also attractive to us as a research subject because there are many insect lovers in the world. We, as specialists, study them through their genomes, but there are also many people who know about insects far more in terms of how they live in the natural world. They are very interested in our research, and have cooperated with us. We have learned a lot from each other.
For research on Japanese ground beetles, we collected samples from the north of Hokkaido to the south of Kyushu. We have no idea how many years it would have taken us if we had had to collect them by ourselves. Rather, we asked people with good knowledge of Hokkaido's ground beetles to send us samples that would meet our requirements. And in return, after analyzing their DNA, we sent the data back to them. They were pleased to see the results of their work, and we were happy to learn a lot about Hokkaido's ground beetles from them, too. Thus we have built a good relationship, by learning from each other. It was never one way. We hope to continue such a relationship.