On January 16th, the Japan Prize Foundation won the 2019 (35th) Japan Prize from a specially invited professor at Nagoya University who laid the foundation for selecting molecules of a specific shape and contributed to the improvement of pharmaceuticals. Presented to Yoshio Okamoto (78) and Rattan Lal (74), a special honorary professor at The Ohio State University, who has achieved both stable food production and protection of the global environment through research on land cultivation methods. Announced. The award ceremony will be held in Tokyo on April 8.
The reason for Mr. Okamoto’s award is “a pioneering contribution to the precision synthesis of helical polymers and the development of practical optical resolution materials such as pharmaceuticals.” Among the molecules that form a substance, there are two types, such as the right hand and the left hand, which are the same in construction but symmetrical in shape, such as an image reflected in a mirror. These two are called “enantiomers”. Sodium glutamate tastes umami only in one form, and like thalidomide, one can be a drug and the other can have serious side effects. Therefore, it is essential to selectively synthesize and separate only one of them in order to utilize the enantiomer. Mr. Okamoto has developed a method to make only one shape with an enantiomer called “spiral polymer”. It was confirmed that when this was packed in a cylinder and the enantiomer was poured from one end, only one type was caught in the “spiral polymer” and became difficult to flow. This was the basis of the current “high performance liquid chromatography” that separates enantiomers at high speed and with high accuracy. Widely used in drug development.
Mr. Okamoto said, “It started with a very basic research that just wanted to show the existence of’spiral polymer’. It may be an encouragement for young people who are doing basic research. It is important for research. I want young people to be interested in various things and accumulate knowledge so that they will not be overlooked when things happen. “
The reason for Mr. Lal’s award is “establishment of sustainable soil management methods for strengthening food security and mitigating climate change.” In order to prevent organic matter as nutrients contained in the soil from flowing out during cultivation, we established a “no-till farming method” to grow crops without cultivating the soil and spread it around the world. Since most of the organic matter is produced by plants from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by “photosynthesis”, keeping the organic matter in the soil also takes in the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into the soil and fixes it. Therefore, the progress of global warming due to the increase in carbon dioxide can be delayed to some extent. It was praised for paving the way for solutions to the incompatible issues of increasing food production and protecting the global environment.
“It shows the importance of soil science. I’m happy to see my 50-year research career.”
The Japan Prize was donated by Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of the current Panasonic, to the concept of the Government of Japan, and the first award ceremony was held in 1985. The number of winners so far is 96 from 13 countries including this time. Each year, two fields are selected to select the winners. Mr. Okamoto, who was awarded this award, is in the field of “materials / materials, production”, and Mr. Lal is in the field of “biological production, ecology / environment”. Winners will receive a prize of 50 million yen for each field.