Masahiro Samejima

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Roots, Education and Family

I was born in March 1954 in the Shibuya district, a midtown of Tokyo, Japan. After my boyhood, I moved to Machida city in the suburbs of Tokyo, where I spent most of my holidays in the fields and mountains. From my high school days, I began to climb mountains in earnest, and I believe my relationship with forests and trees was nurtured in this way. I also became interested in chemistry in basic studies, and in 1973 I entered the University of Tokyo, where I chose my field of specialization based on the keywords "forest" and "chemistry". As a result, I was assigned to the Forest Chemistry Laboratory in Department of Forest Products, where I engaged in research for a whopping 43 years from 1976 until 2019.

In 1984, I married Keiko and we raised four children, who are already living independently. Today, we have left Tokyo, and Keiko and I live with our two Shiba dogs in a rural town surrounded by fields and mountains in the Nagano prefecture.

Research and Professional Career

As a graduate student, I studied organic chemistry, as my research involved the chemical structure analysis of extractive components from trees. My research on flavanols and related compounds from conifer bark led me to obtaining my Ph.D. in 1982.

In 1983, I was hired as an research associate at the University of Tokyo, and shortly thereafter I had the opportunity to spend three months as a visiting researcher at Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada, where I was hosted by Dr. Lubo Jurasek and Dr. Michel Desrochers. There, a xylanase gene produced by bacteria had been cloned, and I was engaged in experiments to express and produce it. This was the beginning of my work with microorganisms, enzymes, and genes. After that, until 1990, I conducted research on the mechanism of biodegradation of lignin-related compounds by bacteria at the University of Tokyo.

From October 1990 to July 1992, I was a visiting scientist in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Georgia, USA, with Professor Karl-Erik L Eriksson as my host. It was then that I began my research on white wood-rotting fungi, which continues to this day. Specifically, I started with research on the function of cellobiose oxidoreductase, which his group discovered, and since then, I have conducted extensive research on the carbohydrate-degrading enzymes and related genes produced by the white wood-rotting fungus when it degrades wood and other plant biomass. In the process, I have been fortunate to be able to conduct a number of collaborative studies with researchers from overseas. Of particular note, I was co-author of a paper published in Science in 2012 (DOI: 10.1126/science.1221748). In this paper, the origin of white rot fungi and brown rot fungi is revealed by molecular clock analysis of genes related to biomass-degrading enzymes. It is also my pleasure to be elected as a Fellow by IAWS in 2009 in the course of my research.

I became an associate professor in the Department of Biomaterials Science at the University of Tokyo in 1995, then a professor in 2001, and a professor emeritus in 2019 after my retirement. I am also a specially appointed professor in the Department of Material Chemistry, Faculty of Engineering, Shinshu University in Nagano city since 2019.

Relationship to Wood Protection and IRG

While I have engaged in a certain deal of research on wood-rotting fungi and the biomass-degrading enzymes they produce, my work on wood protection has been limited to several research works on the natural durability of wood.

However, the fourth previous professor in the forest chemistry laboratory was Dr. Takeo Shibamoto (1905-1992), and since he was the founder of the Japan Wood Protection Association, I became deeply involved in the management of this association and have served as a board member since 2001, and as the president since 2017. It should be noted that Dr Shibamoto was one of the earliest Honorary Life-Long Members of the IRG.

As for IRG, I first attended IRG 31 in Kona, Hawaii in 2000. At that time, Dr. Alan Preston organized a preliminary technical tour for Japanese participants and was very helpful. I also have fond memories of climbing Mt. Mauna Kea. In addition, as a member of the LOC, I was able to respond to IRG32 held in Nara, Japan in 2001 with Prof. Koichi Nishimoto as chair of the organizing committee. Furthermore, I participated in IRG50 held in Quebec City, Canada in 2019. I had visited Quebec City in 1983, and it was a good opportunity to look back on 36 years, and meet my old friends after a long interval.

Although IRG52 in 2021 was a online meeting, Japanese colleagues were able to contribute a lot to IRG52. Finally, in 2025, I strongly hope that IRG56 as a face-to-face meeting will be held again in Japan.

In the meantime, Keiko and I will continue to enjoy our life surrounded by the fields and mountains in the Nagano prefecture.

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This bio was written for the April 2022 IRG newsletter.