Japan Marine Science and Technology Center

April 18, 2001


Establishment of the Frontier Research System for Extremophiles

1. General

On April 1 this year, JAMSTEC (President: Takuya Hirano) restructured the Frontier Research Program for Deep-Sea Extremophiles into the Frontier Research System for Extremophiles (also called a nickname “DEEPSTAR” _ DEep-crust Exploration Program for Subsurface Terrain Animalcule Retrieval) with a view to elucidating various phenomena concerning the biosphere under extreme environments on the deep sea floor or within the earth’s deep-subsurface. The Director of the former Frontier Research Program for Deep-Sea Extremophiles (Professor Koki Horikoshi) was appointed Director General of the Frontier Research System for Extremophiles.

2. Background

We have learned in recent years that a large variety of microorganisms thrive even inside the deep-subsurface; it is estimated that more than 80% of prokaryotes exist in the deep-subsurface of the earth. Microorganisms in the deep-subsurface (called deep-subsurface extremophiles) are therefore thought to have played a key role in the origin and evolution of life, material circulation on the earth, environmental problems, and the generation of petroleum, methane hydrates and other resources.

JAMSTEC is currently undertaking the OD21 (Ocean Drilling in the 21st Century) program as an international joint research project. A key theme of this program is the deep biosphere. DEEPSTAR is the research base in Japan for the OD21 program.

3. Research details and systems

DEEPSTAR carries out the following research. It cooperates also with private-sector organizations through the Bio-Venture Center for Extremophiles.

i) Discovering novel completely unknown microorganisms that can adapt to hostile and extreme environments of high pressure, high temperature, low moisture, poor nutrients, and low oxygen (Research Program for Deep-Subsurface Extremophiles).

ii) Shedding light on how many of what kinds of microorganisms exist where in the deep-subsurface, and the kind of role they play (Research Program for Deep-Subsurface Ecology; scheduled to start in fiscal 2005).

iii) Continuing the successive research on deep-sea microorganisms (Research Program for Deep-Sea Extremophiles).

From this research, DEEPSTAR is playing an important part in scientifically elucidating the origin of life and the mechanism of adapting to extreme environments, and developing new biotechnologies for industrial application through the discovery of new microorganisms and their genome analysis.

4. DEEPSTAR Director General

The Director General of DEEPSTAR, Professor Koki Horikoshi, is a world authority on alkaliphilic microorganisms and other extremophiles, and their industrial application. He served as the Director General of the former Frontier Research Program for Deep-Sea Extremophiles.

For further details contact:
JAMSTEC Administration Department, Public Relations Division (Shimura; Nozawa)
Tel: 0468-67-9066

Frontier Research Promotion Department (Nishimura; Ohara)
Tel: 0468-67-9590; Fax: 0468-66-5306


Attachment 1

Profile of DEEPSTAR Director General Horikoshi

Name: Koki Horikoshi

Date of birth: October 28, 1932

Legal domicile: 927 Honkawamata, Hanyu, Saitama Prefecture

Present address: 4-39-8 Sakuradai, Nerima-ku, Tokyo

Academic background:

March 1956: Graduated from the Department of Agricultural Chemistry, Faculty of Agriculture, The University of Tokyo

March 1958: Completed master’s course at Graduate School of Agriculture, The University of Tokyo

1958―60: Researcher, Purdue University, Indiana, USA (Fulbright Scholarship)

March 1963: Completed doctorate at Graduate School of Agriculture The University of Tokyo (Doctor of Agriculture) Filamentous Fungi Cell Wall Lytic Enzyme and the Structure of the Filamentous Fungi Cell Wall

Professional background:

July 1960: Staff member, Institute of Physical and Chemical Research

April 1963: Researcher, Institute of Physical and Chemical Research

1966―67: Associate professor, Davis Campus of the University of California

1970―74: Associate researcher, Institute of Physical and Chemical Research

April 1974 ― March 1991: Senior supervisor, Institute of Physical and Chemical Research

May 1988 ― May 1990: Professor, Faculty of Engineering, Tokyo Institute of Technology

June 1990 ― March 1993: Professor, Faculty of Bioscience, Tokyo Institute of Technology as a result of restructuring

October 1990: DEEPSTAR group leader, JAMSTEC

April 2001 ― present: Director General, Frontier Research System for Extremophiles, JAMSTEC,

April 1993 ― present: Emeritus Professor, Tokyo Institute of Technology

April 1993 ― present: Emeritus Researcher, Institute of Physical and Chemical Research

April 1993 ― present: Professor, Faculty of Engineering, Toyo University

April 1996 ― present: Professor, Faculty of Life Science, Toyo University

April 1996 ― March 2001: Dean, Faculty of Life Science, Toyo University

Membership in academic societies etc.:

1985 ― present: Member, Editorial Committee, Systematic and Applied Microbiology (Germany)

1987―89: Director, Kanto Branch, Japan Society for Bioscience, Biotechnology,and Agrochemistry

1991 ― present: Member, Editorial Committee, Biodiversity and Conservation (U.K.)

1996 ― present: Chairman, Editorial Committee, Journal of Extremophiles (Germany)

2000 ― present: Chairman, Japanease Society for Extremophiles (Japan)

Prizes and awards:

Science and Technology Agency Director General’s Prize for Outstanding Research (April 18, 1979); Research into the manufacture of b cyclo-dextrin through alkaline fermentation

U.K. International Biotechnology Association Gold Medal (March 11, 1991); Research into extremophiles, and Fellowship of International Institute of Biotechnology

Kei Arima Memorial Bio-industry Association Prize (November 1, 1991); Discovery of alkaliphilic microorganisms and their application, and especially the development of technology for utilizing alkali enzymes

Honda Award (November 17, 1992); Diversity of organisms and a new microbiology

Hanyu City Prize (November 4, 1994);

Major academic papers and books:

Has authored about 350 academic papers, including About alkaliphilic microorganisms, and holds about 250 patents.

Extremophiles, Koki Horikoshi and William D. Grant, 1998, (John Wiley and Sons)

Alkaliphiles, Koki Horikoshi, 1999, (Harwood Academic Publisher)


Attachment 2

Major achievements to date (Frontier Research Program for Deep-sea Extremophiles)

1. World’s first determination of the DNA sequence of the genome of an industrially useful microorganism

The Program determined the complete sequence of the genome (4.2 million bases) of an

alkaliphilic Bacillus halodurans (note) in what was then the world’s shortest period (May 1998 ― July 1999). The Program used its own locally developed genome analysis software system “Genome Gambler” for genome analysis.

As a result of this research, we now know that the base sequences of the alkaliphilic Bacillus halodurans and the Bacillus subtilis, which were thought to be similar, are vastly different, and that of the total base sequence of the Bacillus halodurans, 20―30% had not been reported, so it is seen as a promising new genetic source.

Note: Discovered by Professor Horikoshi, and widely used in household detergents. Potential for use in the disposal of waste such as hair and chicken feathers, which do not readily break down.

2. Discovery of absolute piezophilic bacteria and isolation of pressure-regulated genes

Several new strains of piezophilic bacteria that grow only under high pressure have been discovered. A total of 180 varieties of microorganisms from the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, the world’s deepest area(11,000m depth), were isolated, revealing the great diversity of life even at this depth. Among these, the Program discovered absolute piezophilic bacteria that are incapable of growth at pressures lower than 500 atmospheres.

The Program succeeded in isolating genes that function only under high pressure (pressure promoters), and discovered the pH-regulating function of the vacuole in a yeast cell when pressure is applied.

3. Discovery of organic-solvent-tolerant bacteria

The Program discovered new strains of bacteria that are tolerant to highly toxic organic solvents such as toluene and benzene. The discovery of effective oil-degrading bacteria in aliphatic hydrocarbon was awarded the fiscal 1991 Science and Technology Agency Notable Discovery Prize. Later, the Program also discovered effective oil-degrading bacteria in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, and it is hoped they can be utilized for breaking down PCBs.


Attachment 3

Explanation of terms