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Published: 30 Mar, 2022

MIMS Spotlight serial: Nóra meets Takahiro Ishizaki

NEWS Nóra Lehotai had a chat with Takahiro Ishizaki, postdoctoral fellow in the Ellen Bushell group at MIMS. He joined MIMS in May 2021, leaving behind his parents and girlfriend in Japan for a period of time.

Text: Nóra Lehotai

Can you tell us about your role at MIMS, what are you working on now? 

“I am working as a postdoc in Ellen Bushell’s group thanks to a 2-year scholarship from Japan. This type of scholarship is to encourage Japanese postdocs to go abroad, covering both travel fees and salary. The Bushell group is focusing mainly on the host-pathogen interaction of the malaria parasite.”

“I have a molecular biology background and I characterized the signalling proteins of the parasite, both in the erythrocyte invasion, using genetic modification approaches like CRISPR-Cas9 and inducible knock-outs, and also the time-lapse live imaging analysis. Here in Umeå, I expand the experiment scale using the PlasmoGEM knock-out library and determine the parasite signalling proteins associated with the sensing of the host environmental conditions. I am also trying to establish and optimize the conditional knock-out method, which could be applied to the large-scale experiments.”

What were you doing before you joined MIMS and what attracted you to start a position here? 

“I was born in Tokyo and then we moved to Hokkaido when I was 18. I studied veterinary medicine in Hokkaido for six years, then I moved to Nagasaki and started my PhD there. After finishing my PhD, I worked as a research associate at the Institute of Tropical Medicine for one year. I studied the Babesia parasite, which is hemoprotozoan, just like the malaria parasite. As an undergraduate student, I shifted my research from Babesia to the malaria parasite and one of my projects during my PhD was to establish an inducible knock-out system. Well, this proved to be more challenging technically than I expected and I failed.”

“In 2018, I got the opportunity to participate at the Malaria Experimental Genetics Workshop, which is organized by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. I met Ellen Bushell and Oliver Billker there, and Ellen kindly provided me the help I needed to succeed with my project. A year later, in 2019, I could choose where I would like to study abroad and of course, I contacted Ellen to come to MIMS to stay here for four months. I was very impressed by the research and the research environment at MIMS. When this postdoc fellowship opportunity rose, I was thinking of applying for it at MIMS and I arrived in May 2021. The first summer here was awesome, but the winter that followed was quite shocking for me, very dark and cold!”

How was it to start at a new workplace during the pandemic? 

“I felt that the pandemic dramatically changed our working environment. This is both good and bad. On the good side, almost all of the seminars went online and we could join from anywhere, anytime. I actually love the online meetings. The bad thing is that I missed the social activities with colleagues and friends.”

If you would not have your current profession, what do you think you would be doing? 

“It could be linked to my hobby thus be a photographer. I like travelling, nature, having different adventures. My favourite time to take photos is the so-called blue hour. This is the period before the sunlight or after sunset. I like to select landscape, ocean, sky or skyscraper as objects and take pictures about them during the blue hour. I also like stargazing, so I enjoy watching the aurora and the night sky in winter.”

What do you do in your free time and what are you most enjoying in living in Umeå? 

“Even though I am alone here without my family, I thrive in Sweden and can concentrate on my research. The time difference is quite challenging, though. My hobbies are photography, cooking, playing darts and tasting craft beers. I enjoy the selection of craft beers in Systembolaget. American food with a good craft beer is a nice combination for me. I enjoy running and cycling around Nydala. I am looking forward to go to Stockholm and discover that city.”

Is there a little known fact about yourself? 

“I used to play curling in Japan. I was part of a curling team and we succeeded at the prefecture league. It is a very tactical game which I think could make it popular among scientists; everyone would have a strategy to win.”