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Biophysical Journal

Know the Editors

Kazuhiro Oiwa

National Institute of Informa-

tion and Communications

Technology, Tokyo

Editor, Molecular Machines,

Motors, and Nanoscale



What are you currently working on?

Our research group has focused on understand-

ing the mechanisms of dyneins and eukaryotic

flagellar motility. Dyneins are microtubule-based

protein motors that drive cilia/flagella, and play

important roles in a variety of essential intracel-

lular motility. Using in vitro motility assays and

single-molecule measurements, we have revealed

mechanical properties and regulations of axo-

nemal and cytoplasmic dyneins. Recently, we

adopted a bottom-up approach for our study on

dyneins and axonemes, in which well-character-

ized components are combined into a functional

assembly in order to reconstitute the original

functions in vitro. Advances in nanotechnology,

including DNA origami techniques, and in mo-

lecular biology make this approach feasible.


What are you currently working on

that excites you?

Collective motion of self-propelled particles is

my current interest. We found that microtubules

driven by surface-bound dyneins self-organized

into large-scale vortices. When I was observing

microtubule movement in a small 100 μm ×

100 μm area, large streams of microtubules acci-

dentally passed through the observation area. That

was my first encounter with the phenomenon.

Like the Nazca geoglyphs, a wide view enabled us

to recognize the large-scale vortex patterns formed

in an entire flow cell. We successfully showed this

process by a simple mathematical model, based on

only the smooth motion of single microtubules

and their local interaction (alignment of micro-

tubules on collision). Now, it is exciting for us to

extend the experiments to various types of dynein

in order to find a universal class of collective



What has been your most exciting

discovery as a biophysicist?

My most exciting discovery was the large configu-

ration change of an axonemal dynein molecule

coupled with nucleotide states. This was done in

collaboration with a group at the University of

Leeds. On electron micrographs, single particle

analysis of negatively stained axonemal dynein

revealed such large changes. From this work, I

learned that raw micrographs of negatively stained

molecules contain a wealth of structural informa-

tion, and I fully recognized the power of math-



At a cocktail party of non-scientists,

how would you explain what you do?

Talking about the invisible things that happen

inside of our bodies is a good way to capture peo-

ple’s interest. First, I would ask the non-scientists

when and how symmetric breaks take place in our

body during development. Then I would explain

that a simple function of a group of tiny organ-

elles, called cilia, determines the development of

right–left asymmetry. This is a good introduction

to present to my audience, to explain to them the

importance of studying these organelles. It is also

an amazing example of our extraordinary biologi-

cal system, in which a small bias can be detected,

enhanced, and bring about change in a wide

ranges of scales. This is an attractive concept, not

only for scientists, but also for non-scientists.


How do you stay on top of all the

latest developments in your field?

My main way of staying up to date with the latest

research is to attend the Biophysical Society An-

nual Meeting and other international conferences.

Conferences are not only showcases of the latest

research, but they also provide rich sources for

novel ideas. Also, reading peer-reviewed literature

is, of course, unavoidable. My preference is the

review journals since they are handy for catching

up with the progress in the research fields.

Kazuhiro Oiwa