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Japanese Student Delegation Visits NIEHS

By Eddy Ball
April 2007

Marian Johnson-Thompson
Johnson-Thompson discussed the schedule as Negishi set up his computer for the training. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

a presentation on NC college sports
No introduction to North Carolina would be complete without an acknowledgement of the residents' curious obsession with college sports. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Negishi giving a lecture
Negishi's explanation of gene/environment interaction went right over the heads of most English speakers in the room, but the Japanese characters in his slides helped the students quickly grasp the concept. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Kaoru interpreting
After Pederson's explanation in English, Kaoru interpreted for the students. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

students getting hands on experience
Following the oral presentation on the work in Pederson's lab, the students and their chaperones had an opportunity for some hands-on experience. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

As part of a cooperative effort by NIEHS and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM), on March 14 the Institute welcomed a group of high school students from Iwate, Japan.

The students spent an afternoon involved in science lectures and hands-on learning in the laboratory. This delegation was the most recent of several from the Iwate schools to have visited NIEHS in recent years.

Like the many activities coordinated each year by Education and Biomedical Research Development Director Marian Johnson-Thompson, Ph.D., the event was part of the Institute's mission to foster young scientists by enhancing the quality of science education in grades K through 12. This event, however, featured something a little different - instruction in Japanese.

As the students entered the B-200 executive conference room, they heard the familiar sounds of their native tongue spoken by NIEHS Research Chemist Masahiko Negishi, Ph.D., as he gathered them at the conference table and translated Johnson-Thompson's welcome.

The Japanese-born scientist then introduced the young people to the geography and traditions of North Carolina. He also explained the organization and mission of NIEHS and NIH and provided commentary for the NIEHS video "Your Environment Is Your Health."

Negishi's scientific presentation was an overview of gene-environment interaction theory. He reviewed experiments showing the way genetic susceptibility can be mimicked and manipulated in laboratory animals to demonstrate how environmental exposures can trigger disease in some animals but not in others.

The next part of the program was a survey of "Human SNPs and Xenobiotic Susceptibility," presented by Pharmacologist Joyce Goldstein, Ph.D. Negishi translated for the students as Goldstein moved through her talk about the impact of genetic differences in drug detoxification/activation enzymes on the reactions of different individuals to toxic exposures and medications.

Johnson-Thompson had arranged for additional translators when the students broke into smaller groups for lab visits. The lab visits included presentations by Kenjiro Asagoshi, Ph.D., on "DNA Repair and Nucleic Acid Enzymology"; by Mary Grant, D.V.M., on "Care and Use of Animals in Research," with interpreter Chika Koike, Ph.D.; and by Lars Pedersen, Ph.D., on "Understanding DNA Polymerase Function through X-rays," with interpreter Inoue Kaoru, Ph.D.

Before heading back to Durham with Steve Warshaw, Ph.D., vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at NCSSM, the students rejoined Johnson-Thompson and Negishi for an open-session discussion of their visit.

The visit was part of an ongoing exchange program started four years ago between NCSSM and schools in the Iwate Prefecture, or district, in Japan. The exchange program is one component of an initiative by schools in Iwate to encourage students to develop scientific skills and help expand the technology-base of the largely rural area. This year's group came from the Mizusawa Super Science High School in Iwate. In addition to their visit to NIEHS, the students visited Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and spent two days on the NCSSM campus in Durham.

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