Tokyo Institute of Technology
2017 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
For elucidating autophagy, the recycling system that cells use to generate nutrients from their own inessential or damaged components.
It’s a great honor and also surprise for me to be selected as a winner of the Breakthrough Prize for this year. I have been working on autophagy using the yeast, S. cerevisiae, to study the intracellular degradation system for 28 years. At the beginning not many people were interested in autophagy, but now it has become a really hot field in cell biology. Of course this is thanks to the tremendous efforts of researchers of all over the world, working to elucidate the mechanism and physiological significance of autophagy. That my small idea and trials triggered this vast undertaking is my genuine pleasure. I am purely a basic cell biologist working on yeast, but I believe that basic findings are now tightly linked to medical applications. There is no greater happiness than one’s ideas and efforts being recognized and appreciated by one’s contemporaries, and today’s vast body of autophagy research has made me as happy as I can be. Finally I must acknowledge the good measure of luck that I’ve had, a large number of excellent collaborators, grant support that facilitated my work and of course the support of my lovely family.