Japan

This weeks posts will all have an international angle to them, starting with today’s post on Japan and its role in advancing environmental chemistry.

Good advice - plaque at the entrance of a Temple in Matsuyama, Japan.

I had the good fortune this past summer to visit Matsuyama, Japan for The 6th Global COE International Symposium, titled “International Symposium on Advanced Studies by Young Scientist on Environmental Pollution and Ecotoxicology” or YSEPE for short. The symposium was made possible through a grant acquired by Ehime University through the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), for the Global COE (Center of Excellence) Program. The COE program aims to promote interdisciplinary studies on environmental chemistry.To accomplish this goal, researchers at Ehime University utilize state of the art research facilities such as the Environmental Specimen Bank (es-BANK). The es-Bank, part of the Centre for Marine Environmental Studies (CMES), contains over 100 000 frozen specimens collected over 40 years from around the world. As of 2008 the specimen numbers broke down as follows; birds = 25 737 specimens, fish = 17 256, reptile/amphibian= 2 537, Seal/Sea Otter = 8 612, Terrestrial mammals = 7 081, Cetaceans/Sea cows = 31 503, invertebrates = 4060. The specimen bank is quite amazing and very well controlled, and while those numbers seems daunting, some specimens refer to a plasma or blubber sample, and are seldom the whole organism. One of the more troubling aspects of the specimen bank is the large number of whale and dolphin samples, the validity and ethics of which are a post all in their own. Controversy aside, the vast number and variety of specimens at the es-Bank have been utilized by researchers at Ehime, as well as from around the world, to examine three major research themes. The first theme being the assessment of contamination, specifically with respect to temporal and spatial trends, for which the extensive specimen bank provides an excellent record of changing patterns in contamination. The second research theme is modelling pollutant behaviour and dynamics, this refers to both the movement of a pollutant in an organism (e.g. bioaccumulation), and its movement in the global sense (e.g. atmospheric circulation). The final research theme aims to identify toxic effects and assess the risk of these pollutants. Within these three research themes, over 600 original papers have been published since 2002, representing a very significant contribution to the field of environmental chemistry.

This symposium really highlighted two key things for me. The first is that with an investment and commitment in science, it is possible for governments to create an unrivalled international program and facility. And secondly, that collaboration across disciplines, should also occur across countries, as great insights and indeed partnerships are formed this way. These international collaborations and symposia develop and multiply the talents of young scientists, and I have personally benefited greatly from participating in them.

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