International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

The Yagi Lecture

(inaugurated: 2000 in Birmingham)

Birmingham2000J. Walker, UK
Montreal2003S. Narumiya, Japan
Kyoto2006B. Stillman, USA
Shanghai2009Gregory Hannon, USA

A profile of Kunio Yagi: the 11th President of IUBMB

Contributed by Osamu Hayaishi, Chairman of the Board of Trustees,
Osaka Bioscience Instititute, Osaka, Japan

Kunio Yagi was born on June 24, 1919 in Yokohama, where he spent most of his childhood.  He then entered the Nagoya University School of Medicine and received his M.D. in 1942.  As it was in the middle of the Second World War when he graduated from medical school, he served in the Japanese Navy for the next three years as a medical officer.  It was there that I met him for the first time, and I soon came to know him as a warm-hearted gentleman and later as a brilliant biochemist.  However, neither of us realized that it was the beginning of a long-lasting friendship that would last more than 50 years until his untimely death on October 16, 2003.  With the end of the war in 1945, he returned to Nagoya where he started his career as a biochemist at the Department of Biochemistry of Nagoya University, which department had been earlier created by Dr. Leonor Michaelis, the great German-American biochemist who was famous for his contribution to the Michaelis-Menten theory of enzyme kinetics.  Although Yagi never actually met Prof. Michaelis, he admired Michaelis’s pioneering work in enzymology and decided to seek proof of the validity of the theory by crystallizing and characterizing the predicted enzyme-substrate complex.  He did so by using D-amino acid oxidase and D-alanine as model compounds.  In 1964, he published his first successful experiments (1) and thereafter continued to publish numerous papers, mainly those on vitamin B2 and flavoprotein enzymes; although he also became interested in active oxygen, biochemistry of the aging process, and numerous other subjects in his later years.  

It was in the early 1970's that Dr. Yagi first became associated with the IUBMB (then known as the IUB).  Having become a member of the Science Council of Japan, he represented the Japanese Biochemical Society as a delegate at the General Assembly of the 10th IUB Congress in Hamburg.  When I became the fourth President of the IUB (MB) in 1973, the executive committee members agreed to expand the various activities of IUB to promote biochemical science in terms of research and education worldwide; and so they proposed more small symposia and workshops to be held for the benefit of biochemists at large and especially for those in developing countries and for young biochemists.  In order to raise sufficient funds to support these new ventures, we established a Financial Appeal Committee in 1974; and Kunio Yagi became its chairman.  In this position he encouraged donations from various industries and contributed much to improve the finances of the Union.  For example, the First IUB Conference on The Biochemistry of Disease held in Nagoya in 1992 made a profit of $43,717.  As a testimony to his great generosity, I must tell you that Kunio personally donated about $16,000 to finance the Kunio Yagi Lecture and then in 1997, $100,000 to found the IUBMB Special Initiatives Endowment Fund, to support special activities not normally financed by IUBMB.
 
Dr. Yagi also served as a member of the IUB Council from 1979 to 1982 and as IUB Treasurer from 1981 to 1988, during which time he continued to encourage financial growth of the Union.  In 1983, he retired from Nagoya University and became the director and the chairman of the Board of the Institute of Applied Biochemistry in Mitake, a charming rural area of Gifu Prefecture not very far from Nagoya.  There he continued his scientific inquiries, hosting various biochemists from around the world.  In addition to all of his other activities, Kunio served as President of the IUBMB from 1994 to 1997.  Over the years, he presented 4 plenary lectures and 12 symposium lectures in the Congresses of the IUB (MB) and FAOBMB.  Kunio Yagi will be long remembered by his countless friends and biochemists all over the world as a great scientist, a capable administrator, and a statesman who brought honor to his country.

References

  1. Yagi, K., and Ozawa, T. (1964)  Mechanism of Enzyme Action I. Crystallization of Michaelis complex of D-amino acid oxidase.  Biochim. Biophys. Acta, 81, 29-38.

Acknowledgements

I thank Dr. Toshiharu Nagatsu, Dr. Seiko Ohishi and Dr. Larry Frye for their help in the preparation of this manuscript.

A fuller account of the life of Kunio Yagi is to be found in IUBMB Life, 55, 635-636 (2003) written by the present author