Seeking Undiscovered Laws and Possibilities

Frontier Sciences: IWASAKI Wataru

The study of biology is currently at a turning point. Conventionally, biologists focused on specific organisms or problems. However, having a broader perspective is now considered increasingly more important; and is often characterized by the addition of “data science.” In our laboratory, we focus on this dramatic change in biology and aim to cultivate a new scientific field by combining different research approaches, namely (1) bioinformatics, theories and mathematical principles and (2) experiments and field samplings.

The Biology’s Frontier is Greatly Expanding

Biologists have traditionally researched specific subjects, predominantly on so-called “model organisms,” and established the field of modern biology. These model organisms have excellent features and characteristics for research, which simultaneously mean that they are also “atypical” organisms. Biologists have called for expanding analyses to a broader spectrum of organisms; to reflect nature better. Through the evolution of approximately four billion years, numerous organisms have appeared, adapted to environments, interacted with each other, and established complex ecosystems. There must be numerous still unknown life phenomena and laws, some of which we may be able to adapt to solve problems humans are facing now.

Recently, measurement and information technologies have progressed dramatically in biology. They now allow us to analyze previously inaccessible organisms and life phenomena. In other words, this advancement has rapidly enabled researchers and graduate students to pursue broader research subjects on life phenomena. The field of biology is quickly changing its shape.

In our laboratory, we seek to uncover undiscovered laws and possibilities in biology amid these drastic changes in the field of biology. We are conducting a variety of research to answer the following five fundamental questions:

1. Evolution of Genomes and Life Systems
How have the elaborate and complex life systems evolved?

2. Ecosystem and Living Strategies
How are the ecosystems stably maintained?

3. Unknown Function Genes
What unknown gene functions have evolved in four billion years?

4. Multidimensional Omics
What is the methodology to reveal unknown gene functions from big data?

5. Gene Birth
How many genes are being born on the earth?

The following are the research keywords related to our research:
 -Bioinformatics (especially, evolutionary and ecological informatics)
 -Evolutionary biology (especially, evolution of genomes and life systems)
 -Microbial ecology, microbial genomics, and environmental DNA (especially, microbial dark matter, non-model organisms, metagenomics, and databases)

I was originally trained as a structural biologist as a student of the Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry at the Graduate School of Science, the University of Tokyo. I then majored in bioinformatics at the Department of Computational Biology at the Graduate School of Frontier Sciences. After I obtained my Ph.D., I joined the Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute of the University of Tokyo, where I gained an appreciation for macro-scale biology. In our laboratory, we are aiming to cultivate a new area of biology by combining different approaches, namely, bioinformatics, laboratory experiments, mathematics, and field samplings.

High-performance computer is essential to analyze big genome data and delve into history of life evolution.

Tree of Life. The tree was reconstructed based on genomic information. It shows the approximately four billion years of life evolution.

There are numerous unknown and invisible microbes in nature. If all the microbes on earth were arranged in a line, its length would be 1,000 times the galaxy’s distance.

I wrote and proofread the biology section of “Kojien 7th Edition”, the most popular Japanese Dictionary.

Sampling marine microbes

Laboratory of Computational Evolutionary Biology
Department of Integrated Biosciences
Division of Biosciences