Govt institute announces winners of female researcher awards

Jiji Press
From left: Tohoku University Vice President Noriko Osumi, Meiji University’s Yasuka Toda and University of Tokyo’s Kaori Sugihara

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — The government-affiliated Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) announced the winners of this year’s awards for excellent female researchers on Sunday.

The Award for Brilliant Female Researchers was given to Meiji University’s Yasuka Toda, 39, who clarified the evolution of taste receptors of birds and primates, the JST said. Prize money of ¥1 million was sent to her from the Ashida Fund, which was established in 1994 by the late fashion designer Jun Ashida.

The University of Tokyo’s Kaori Sugihara, 39, who studies lipids in cell membranes and biosensors, received the JST President Award.

The Award for Organization Supporting Brilliant Female Researchers went to Tohoku University in Miyagi Prefecture, which is actively promoting women to senior positions.

In a lecture at the award ceremony held at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) in Tokyo on the day, Toda explained that ancestors of birds lost their sweet taste receptors but more than half of them can taste sugar with their umami taste receptors.

Primates came to like glutamic acid as they became larger and began to eat not only insects but also plant leaves, she also said.

Toda has worked as a researcher at major food maker Kikkoman Corp. while Sugihara engaged in research activities abroad for a long period of time.

“They can become role models [for young female researchers] also in terms of the diversity of their career paths,” said Masashi Yanagisawa, professor at the University of Tsukuba, who served as a juror for the awardee selection.