‘Life as Research Scientist’: Taichi Suzuki, Evolutionary Biologist

Taichi Suzuki, an Evolutionary Biologist, is currently involved in PhD program in Integrative Biology at the University of California Berkeley. He received his Bachelor’s degree from the Nihon University in Japan and completed Master’s in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at The University of Arizona. He is also associated with Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley.

So, let’s join Mr. Suzuki to our latest round of interviews on ‘Life as research scientist’:

Q. Let us start with your research topic. What is your research area? Will you please tell us a bit more on this? What did you find?

Taichi Suzuki: My research topic is focused on ‘Host associated microbial ecology’. I am interested in understanding how symbiotic microbial community affects host (e.g. animals) health and evolution. I found correlation between obese-associated gut microbial community composition and geography (i.e. latitude).

Q. Why is this important? (i.e. why should the general public care about this?)

Taichi Suzuki:  This study is important because it generates novel ideas and discussions about the role of gut microbial community in relation to our health. The observed pattern of microbial community can be explained in many ways such as diet, pathogens, climate, our ancestry, etc.

For example, the observed gut microbial pattern is consistent with a well known ecological pattern (i.e. animals living in colder region have bigger body mass compared to warmer region including humans). Although I do not have body size data from the individuals surveyed, one explanation is that our ancestors not only shaped our genes (e.g. height, hair color, eye color, etc.) but may also shaped our gut microbial composition (e.g. extract more energy from diet).    

Understanding the relative importance of the factors (e.g. diet, age, climate, etc) shaping the gut community will be important to manage our health including obesity.

Taichi Suzuki in lab. Image courtesy of Arizona Daily Star

Taichi Suzuki in lab. Image courtesy of Arizona Daily Star

Q.  Is this truly new information or does it confirm what other researchers have found?

Taichi Suzuki:  The study only uses data gathered from published studies. So the data themselves are not new, but this is the first study to document the obese-associated microbial community associated with latitude in any organism.

Q. How did you land here. Was it your goal?

Taichi Suzuki: This is not the goal and this is the start for my dissertation. As I described above, the pattern can be explained in many ways. I would like to understand why we see the geographic pattern of gut microbial composition. Using human subjects has limitations so I am studying gut microbial communities of wild house mice (a mammalian model) for my dissertation. The goal is to understand what factors shape the gut microbial communities and how gut microbes play a role in host health and adaptation.

Q. How many hours a day you spend for study. How you arrange other side of your life like social activities so to say?

Taichi Suzuki: This was a rotation project with Michael Worobey in a PhD program at University of Arizona 2011. The basic result was generated in a couple of months followed by more detailed analysis but it was a side project.

I was running a Japanese student association club at University of Arizona so I believe I had an active social life than normal graduate students at that time.

Q. Are you satisfied with your results? What about your publications?

Taichi Suzuki: Yes. But I think more comprehensive study is required to confirm the observed pattern. I would like my paper to be used as a motivation for researchers to view gut microbial community from ecology and evolutionary perspective.

Q. If you would not be at your current profession, what other options would you consider for your career?

Taichi Suzuki: I dreamed to be a biologist since I was a kid. So I will think after I fail the career.

Thank You  

*Download a pdf version of the interview

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