Molecular and Chemical Life Science :
Molecular and Network Genomics


Professor WATANABE Masao
Campus Katahira campus
Laboratory Plant Molecular Breeding
Tel +81-22-217-5681
E-mail nabe@ige.tohoku.ac.jp
Website http://www.ige.tohoku.ac.jp/prg/watanabe/
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Researcher ID


I was born in Imabari city, Ehime Prefecture. It is a towel-making and shipbuilding town located at the entrance on the Shikoku side of the Honshu-Shikoku Bridge, Imabari-Onomichi route. It might recently be most famous for Bary-san, the local mascot. I entered the Faculty of Agriculture at Tohoku University in 1984 and, after serving as an Assistant Professor, later lived in Sendai for 13 years. After seven years in Morioka, Iwate University, as an Associate Professor, I returned to Tohoku University, Sendai, as full Professor in April 2005, and am now entering my 10th year here. During this time conducting University research, I have consistently researched plant reproduction, particularly the identification, isolation, and interaction of the male and female S determinants regulating self-incompatibility (SI) in Brassica species, and have published papers in international scientific journals such as Nature and Science. From my studies in at Iwate University, I initiated global gene expression analysis, and gradually identified the specific genes of the plant reproductive organs. These specific genes should be important also in pollen-pistil interactions. As I understand the importance of collaborative research with different field laboratories, I have performed collaborative research with over 30 laboratories to date. I would like to continue to develop this research, and conduct new collaborative research as well.

In addition to dissecting SI, reproductive organ-specific genes, and pollen-pistil interactions, I would like to analyze small RNAs, quantitative trait loci (QTL), and large-scale genome analysis for understanding plant reproductive traits such as reproductive organ formation, pollen-pistil interaction, and pollen tube growth. In order to do these studies, I would like to engage in education and research from a broad perspective encompassing the research that should be done today, the research that will flower five years from now, and the research that looks likely to germinate ten years from now. Plant flowers not only have a calming effect on us, but also become seeds and fruit after pollination and are an important food supply.

I encourage those who would like to use flowers to bring forth the flowers and fruit of research; those who want to engage in world-class research; and those interested in plant flowers and reproduction, genetics, genomics, and epigenetics to visit our laboratory.


Apr. 1991 Assistant Professor, Faculty of Agriculture, Tohoku University (employed)
Jun. 1996 Collaborative Researcher, Institute for Protein Research, Osaka University (joint appointment)
Feb. 1997 Collaborative Researcher, National Institute of Genetics (joint appointment)
Dec. 1997 Associate Professor, Faculty of Agriculture, Iwate University (promotion)
Apr. 2001 Received 11th Nikkei Business Publications Technology Award Grand Prize
Sep. 2002 Part-time Lecturer, Institute of Plant Science and Resources, Okayama University (joint appointment)
Nov. 2002 Received 11th Japan Prize in Agricultural Sciences Achievement Award for Young Scientists
Apr. 2005 Professor, Graduate School of Life Sciences, Tohoku University (promotion)
Apr. 2005 Specially Appointed Professor, 21st Century COE Program, Iwate University
Jun. 2007 Part-time Lecturer, Faculty of Science, University of Tokyo (joint appointment)
Apr. 2009 Part-time Lecturer, Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Kagoshima University (joint appointment)
Apr. 2009 Sub-chairman, Super Science High school Committee Member, Kinkowan Senior High School (joint appointment)
May 2010 School Councilor, Nanakita Elementary School (joint appointment)
May 2010 Sub-chairman, Super Science High school Committee Member, Sendai Daisan Senior High School (joint appointment)
Mar. 2009 Received 7th JSPS Prize
Apr. 2011 Super Science High school Committee Member, Kanonji Daiichi High School (joint appointment)
Apr. 2011 Super Science High school Committee Member, Morioka Daisan High School (joint appointment)
Apr. 2012 Chairman, Super Science High school Committee Member, Fukushima High School (joint appointment)
Oct. 2012 Received 122nd Japan Society of Breeding Lecturer Excellence Prize
Mar. 2013 Received Tohoku University President’s Education Award (Joint Program for the Exploring Germination and Growth Program for Young Scientists Organizing committee)
Apr. 2013 Received the Commendation for Science and Technology by the Minister of Education, Culture, Spots, Science, and Technology (Prize for Science and Technology, Public Understanding Promotion Category)
Sep. 2014 Part-time Lecturer, Graduate School of Biorecources, Mie University (joint appointment)
Jun. 2015 Part-time Lecturer, Graduate School of Bioargicultural Sciences, Nagoya University (joint appointment)
Apr. 2016 Collaborative Researcher, Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science, RIKEN (joint appointment)
Apr. 2016 School Councilor, Katahiracho Elementary School (joint appointment)
Dec. 2017 Received 132nd Japan Society of Breeding Lecturer Excellence Prize
Jan. 2018 Received Tohoku University General Education Contribution Award
Jan. 2018 The Educational terms of Genetics Reviewing Committee Member, The Genetics Society of Japan (joint appointment)
Apr. 2018 Received Tohoku University President's Education Award
Selected Publications
  1. Suzuki et al. (1999) Genomic organization of the S locus: Identification and characterization of genes in SLG/SRK region of an S9 haplotype of Brassica campestris (syn. rapa). Genetics 153: 391-400.
  2. Takasaki et al. (2000) SRK determines the S specificity of stigma in self-incompatible Brassica. Nature 403: 913-916.
  3. Takayama et al. (2000) The pollen determinant of self-incompatibility in Brassica campestris. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 97: 1920-1925.
  4. Watanabe et al. (2000) Highly divergent sequences of the pollen self-incompatibility (S) gene in class-I S haplotypes of Brassica campestris (syn. rapa) L. FEBS Lett. 473: 139-144.
  5. Hatakeyama et al. (2001) The S receptor kinase gene determines dominance relationships in stigma expression of self-incompatibility in Brassica. Plant J. 26: 69-76.
  6. Takayama et al. (2001) Direct ligand-receptor complex interaction controls Brassica self-incompatibility. Nature 413: 534-538.
  7. Shiba et al. (2002) Dominant/recessive relationship in pollen expression of self-incompatibility is determined by the transcriptional level of the pollen determinant gene in the S-heterozygotes of Brassica. Plant Cell 14: 491-504.
  8. Murase et al. (2004) A membrane-anchored protein kinase involved in Brassica self-incompatibility signaling. Science 303: 1516-1519.
  9. Endo et al. (2004) Identification and molecular characterization of novel anther-specific genes in japonica rice, Oryza sativa L. by using cDNA microarray. Genes Genet. Syst. 79: 213-226.
  10. Shiba et al. (2006) Dominance relationships between self-incompatibility alleles controlled by DNA methylation. Nature Genet., 38: 297-299.
  11. Chhun et al. (2007) Gibberellin regulates pollen viability and pollen tube growth in rice. Plant Cell 19: 3876-3888.
  12. Suwabe et al. (2008) Separated transcriptomes of male gametophyte and tapetum in rice: validity of a laser microdissection (LM) microarray. Plant Cell Physiol. 49: 1407-1416.
  13. Tsuchimatsu et al. (2010) Evolution of self-compatibility in Arabidopsis by a mutation in the male specificity gene. Nature 464: 1342-1346.
  14. Tarutani et al. (2010) Trans-acting small RNA determines dominance relationships in Brassica self-incompatibility. Nature 466: 983-986.
  15. Watanabe et al. (2012) Molecular genetics, physiology and biology of self-incompatibility in Brassicaceae. Proc. Jpn. Acad. Ser. B. 88: 519-535.
  16. Osaka et al. (2013) Cell type-specific transcriptome of Brassicaceae stigmatic papilla cells from a combination of laser microdissection and RNA sequencing. Plant Cell Physiol. 54: 1894-1904. (Research Highlight selected, Cover Photo selected)
  17. Hiroi et al. (2013) Time-lapse imaging of self- and cross-pollination in Brassica rapa L. Annals Bot. 112: 115-122.
  18. Maeda et al. (2016) Comparative analysis of microRNA profiles of rice anthers between cool-sensitive and cool-tolerant cultivars under cool-temperature stress. Genes Genet. Syst. 91: 97-109.
  19. Yasuda et al. (2016) Complex dominance hierarchy is controlled by polymorphism of small RNAs and their targets. Nature Plants 3: 16206.
  20. Takada et al. (2017) Duplicated pollen-pistil recognition loci control intraspecific unilateral incompatibility in Brassica rapa. Nature Plants, 3: 17096.
Activities in Academic Societies

The Japanese Society of Breeding, The Genetics Society of Japan, The Japanese Society of Plant Physiologists, Japanese Society for Plant Cell and Molecular Biology, The Molecular Biology Society of Japan


Life Science B (First year students, School of Engineering), How-to take information and intelligence for report making (First year students, School of General Education), Applied seminar (First year students, School of General Education), Advanced course of Molecular and Chemical Biological Sciences  (Graduate School), Advanced course of Molecular and Chemical Biological Sciences II (Graduate School), A series of Lecture of Ecology (Graduate School)

Recent Activities

In higher plants, during pollen-stigma interactions, self and non-self-pollen recognition should occur on the stigma papilla cells. As a result of this reaction, self-pollen is rejected on the stigma and/or in the style, and non-self-pollen succeeds in fertilization. This phenomenon is called SI, and is an important mechanism for repressing inbreeding depression. Although this phenomenon has been known since before the time of Darwin, it became famous after Darwin published the results of a survey into the amazing abilities of plants in several publications. Through classical genetic analysis, SI recognition reaction was shown to be controlled by a single S locus, with multiple alleles (Watanabe et al., 2012).

SI in Brassica species is sporophytically controlled by a single locus, S, with multiple alleles (Watanabe et al., 2003). Through over 20 years research, we have discovered that the small peptide, SP11, was the male S determinant (SP11; Suzuki et al., 1999: Takayama et al., 2000; Watanabe et al., 2000) and the receptor kinase, SRK, was the female S determinant (SRK; Takasaki et al. 2000); that SP11-SRK interaction in an S-allele-specific manner induced auto-phosphorylation, and that the self-signal was transduced into the stigma (Takayama et al., 2001). Furthermore, we established SI in Arabidopsis thaliana by SP11 gene inversion (Tsuchimatsu, Suwabe et al. 2010).

As an interesting characteristic of SI in Brassica species, because S gene functions sporophytically, is the dominance relationship between S alleles that occurs in the S heterozygote. SRK itself was shown to determine the dominance relationship at the stigma side (Hatakeyama et al., 2001). In contrast, the dominance relationship at the pollen side was shown to be regulated by recessive allele specific methylation by small RNAs at the promoter region of SP11 (Shiba et al., 2002, 2006; Tarutani et al., 2010). In the future, we would like to determine S downstream factors such as MLPK (Murase et al., 2004), new incompatibility factors, and the molecular mechanisms of the dominance relationship between S alleles.

In addition, we also have performed comprehensive analysis on reproductive organ specific genes in higher plants (Endo et al., 2004). We have conducted laser microdissection (LMD) to isolate pollen grains and tapetum cells and have developed gene expression profile according to stamen development stages (Watanabe, 2008; Suwabe et al., 2008). On the pistil side, we have conducted experiments combining LDM and next-generation sequencing to perform transcriptome analysis on papilla cells, which are important in pollen-stigma recognition (Osaka et al., 2013).

In future, through the integration of the expression profiles of pollen-, tapetum-, and papilla cell specific genes, new molecules involved in the pollen-stigma interaction should be identified and characterized. Recently, a time-lapse method for observing pollen behavior on the papilla cells was also established (Hiroi, Sone, et al., 2013). Furthermore, we are aiming to develop new research on important phenomena that follow SI even in pollen tube growth (Chhun et al., 2008).

Message to Students

Although it is not my personal motto, one of my favorite phrases is, "Endure the humiliation of today for tomorrow," spoken by the Admiral Juzo Okita, the first captain of the Space Battleship Yamato. I believe human beings can persevere because no matter how difficult "today" is, the future that is "tomorrow" will come. I believe that I have been able to publish papers in international journals such as Nature and Science by establishing the goal of striving today to create the fantastic future of tomorrow and enduring the difficulties of everyday activities. Of course, my feelings of gratitude are unceasing towards the many supervisors who supported my education and research together, collaborative researchers, students, part-jobs, etc. Allow me to borrow this space and offer my sincere thanks to all of them. Thank you very much for your helpful kindness.

Recently I have performed over 500 outreach activities for students from elementary school to high school, and have written individual responses to over 18,000 letters I received from the students. Through this, I have provided education on the wonders of life than surround us every day and it is my hope to provide consistent education from elementary school up to graduate school. I am looking forward to being able to work once again with the students who attend my lectures.