Plant Biotechnology for Global Health and Wellness

Signing Ceremony Lobby Photo
On June 21, 2019, project collaborators from Kirin Holding Company, Osaka University and UC Davis came together for a formal signing ceremony at the UC Davis Alumni Center.  Photo credit - David Silpher (College of Biological Sciences)

Harnessing Plant Biotechnology for Global Health and Wellness

An International Research and Exchange Program between the University of California, Davis, Osaka University and the Kirin Holdings Company, Ltd.

Whitney Cary at OsakaU
Whitney Cary, (now former) director of the Stem Cell Core at the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures, gave a talk entitled, “Clinically Relevant Culture of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells” at the November 2019 Kick-Off Conference hosted by Osaka University.

Under the leadership of Professor Emeritus Raymond Rodriguez (Molecular and Cellular Biology, College of Biological Sciences, UC Davis and Honorary Doctor, Osaka University), an international public-private collaboration to harness the power of plant biotechnology to provide safe, effective and sustainable therapeutics to promote human health was launched in 2019. 

In the words of Prof. Rodriguez, "The main goal of this unique tripartite effort is to train a new generation of scientists and engineers to produce health-promoting and lifesaving therapeutics from plants. Whether it’s emerging pandemics or the global rise in age-related diseases, we need a new kind of mission-oriented, interdisciplinary researcher capable of working in diverse teams to quickly address global health needs."

Generously supported by the Kirin Holdings Company, Ltd., the program has funded collaborative research projects and will facilitate training exchanges for both faculty and students.  The goal has been to create a world-class international research community with shared values around the creation of new technologies that promote global health, wellness and prosperity. 

In November 2019, UC Davis scientists and engineers travelled to Osaka University to take part in a two-day research conference, exploring important technical and socioeconomic issues related to the use of plant-made pharmaceuticals (PMPs).  The interdisciplinary topics ranged across the "food - health - ecosystem" trilemma and included:

  • Medicinal Plant Compounds for Human Health
  • Techno-economics: Do PMPs Make Economic Sense?  
  • Stem Cell Research for Regenerative Cures
  • Human Augmentation and Remediation of Global Ecosystems
  • Plants for Food and Medicine Grown for Interplanetary Travel

 In addition to laying a scholarly foundation for collaborative research, the conference provided an opportunity for cultural exchange and professional networking. The Osaka University graduate students and early career researchers hosted an international cooking competition and accompanied the UC Davis conference guests on a visit to a Kirin Holding Company brewery in Osaka. 

Program Leaders and Participants

Professors at Osaka University

Osaka University Honors Prof. Rodriguez

Prof. Ray Rodriguez visited Osaka University in February 2023 to officially celebrate an honorary degree conferred on June 16, 2021. Since appointment as a visiting faculty member at OU's Graduate School of Engineering, he has contributed to the development of academic exchange between the two universities. Read more here.

Participants are listed alphabetically by surname and include those who have been part of the official program launch and documentation, conferences, site visits, on-going research collaborations and related activities.

Kirin Holdings Company, Limited
  • Hiroyuki Naganuma, Senior Manager, KIRIN Central Research Institute, R&D Division
  • Kazuaki Ohara, Senior Research Scientist, KIRIN Central Research Institute
  • Hiroshi Okawa, Leader, KIRIN Central Research Institute
  • Hiroaki Yajima, Deputy General Manager of KIRIN Central Research Institute
Osaka University
  • Kazuhito Fujiyama, Professor and Director, International Center for Biotechnology
  • Eiichiro Fukusaki, Professor, Graduate School of Engineering and Director, Industrial Biotechnology Initiative Division, Institute for Open and Transdisciplinary Research Initiative
  • Genta Kawahara, Professor and Vice President, Global Engagement 
  • Genji Kurisu, Institute for Protein Research
  • Jong-Kook Lee, Professor (S.A.), Graduate School of Medicine
  • Toshiya Muranaka, Professor, Graduate School of Engineering
  • Toshihiro Tanaka, Senior Executive Vice President
  • Masahiro Ueda, Professor, Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences and the RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research (BDR)
  • Hiroshi Umakoshi, Professor, Graduate School of Engineering Science
UC Davis
  • John Albeck, Professor, Molecular and Cellular Biology and Member Steering Committee
  • Whitney Cary, Manager, Shared Translational Lab Manager and Director, Stem Cell Core, Institute for Regenerative Cures
  • Jennifer Sinclair Curtis, Dean, College of Engineering
  • Ricardo H. R. Castro, Professor and Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies, College of Engineering
  • John J. Harada, Professor, Plant Biology (formerly Executive Associate Dean of Academic Affairs College of Biological Science)
  • Denneal Jamison-McClung, Director, Biotechnology Program and Member, Steering Committee
  • Ken Kaplan, Professor, Molecular and Cellular Biology and Chair, Steering Committee
  • Tonya Kuhl, Professor, Chemical Engineering
  • Karen McDonald, Professor, Chemical Engineering and Member, Steering Committee
  • Somen Nandi, Adjunct Professor, Chemical Engineering and Managing Director, Global HealthShare Initiative
  • Jan Nolta, Professor and Director, Stem Cell Program and Institute for Regenerative Cures
  • Joanna Regulska, Vice Provost and Dean, Global Affairs
  • Raymond L. Rodriguez, Professor Emeritus, Molecular and Cellular Biology and Executive Director, Global HealthShare Initiative
  • Mark Winey, Dean, College of Biological Sciences
  • Philipp Zerbe, Professor, Plant Biology and Member, Steering Committee
  • Ping Zhou, Assistant Adjunct Professor, Internal Medicine and Stem Cell Program

Related Resources

Kirin Visiting Nolta Lab Group - IRC UC Davis
Kirin partners and Prof. Rodriguez were hosted by Prof. Jan Nolta's research group at the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures. From L->R: Ms. Jane McCluskey, Ms. Missy Pham, Ms. Whitney Cary, Mr. Hiroyuki Naganuma, Dr. Keiji Kondo, Mr. Hiroshi Okawa, Prof. Jan Nolta and Prof. Emeritus Ray Rodriguez (August 30, 2019).

JOINT SYMPOSIUM:November 9/10, 2021

The leaders of the project research teams hosted a joint symposium on November 9th (PST)/10th (JST) to publicly share collaborative research results for the first time. The physicochemical properties of human growth factors produced by plant cell fermentation were described and their effectiveness in cell cultures was discussed. Technoeconomic considerations for this approach were also discussed.

Signing Ceremony - UC Davis Founder's Room - June 21, 2019
Partners from UC Davis, KIRIN Holdings Co., Ltd., and Osaka University gathering in the UC Davis Alumni Center Founder's Room for the signing ceremony (June 21, 2019).