Researcher Information

NAKANO Ryohei Thomas


Microbes are a part of plants

Department of Biological Sciences, Cell Structure and Function


We aim to understand how plants coordinate growth and defense in the presence of microbiota at the cellular and molecular levels.

FieldPlant Microbe Interactions, Molecular Genetics, Cell Biology, Biochemistry, Molecular Ecology
KeywordMicrobiota, Plant Immunity, Root Development, Growth-defense Tradeoff, Environmental Responses, Multi-omics, Bioinformatics

Introduction of Research

Plants in nature are exposed to a tremendous variety of microbes. Similar to our gut and skins, plant roots and leaves are heavily colonized by these microbes, constituting a plant-associated microbial community called the "plant microbiota". Our research aims to understand how these commensal microbes influence plant growth and defense. 

To support the growth of aboveground tissues, roots grow into soils that contain a complex microbial ecosystem. It may contain not only beneficial microbes providing goods to plants but also pathogenic microbes potentially causing severe disease symptoms. Plants cope with these microbes by so-called plant immunity, avoiding unwanted infection by these pathogens.

However, it is also known that overactivation of immunity results in growth restriction, similar to the allergic hypersensitive response we frequently experience – especially if you have severe hay fever. It has been a mystery how plants balance growth and immunity in the presence of soil microbes, and we recently found that root microbiota members ("commensal microbes") play a pivotal role in root growth-defense coordination. 

Our fundamental research interest is to understand how plants coordinate root growth and immunity in the presence of such a complex microbial community. Addressing this question would allow us to reveal the true art of life of plants living in nature using the words of molecular genetics. Ultimately, we may uncover the trajectory of land plant evolution mediated by the interaction with soil microbe, or we may build a basis for developing sustainable agricultural practices without heavily relying on chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

As in the case of plant microbiota, what matters in a research group is its diversity. We aim to build a group with different ideas, views, perspectives, cultures, genders, religions, and career and life event options, because the synergy created by such diversity is instrumental for pursuing truly innovative, exciting, and fun science. If you feel us and are interested in being a part of us, just come by our lab, and we can always have a chat about how plants and microbes are fascinating. 

(Left) Arabidopsis plants growing in natural site. (Middle) Soil contains a huge variety of microbes. (Right) Plant roots are heavily colonized by microbes, constituting a microbial community called the plant microbiota.
(Left) Chronic activation results in growth inhibition under axenic conditions, which is suppressed by inoculation with a commensal bacterial strain. (Right) We believe that cell division/differentiation control at the root tip is the key to understand microbiota-influenced coordination of root growth and immunity.

Representative Achievements

Tobacco root endophytic Arthrobacter harbors genomic features enabling the catabolism of host-specific plant specialized metabolites.
Tomohisa Shimasaki, Sachiko Masuda, Ruben Garrido-Oter, Takashi Kawasaki, Yuichi Aoki, Arisa Shibata, Wataru Suda, Ken Shirasu, Kazufumi Yazaki, Ryohei Thomas Nakano#, Akifumi Sugiyama#.
mBio 12:e00846-21 (2021). #Co-corresponding authorship.
A Golgi-released subpopulation of the trans-Golgi network mediates constitutive and pathogen-inducible protein secretion in Arabidopsis.
Tomohiro Uemura*, Ryohei Thomas Nakano*, Junpei Takagi, Yiming Wang, Katharina Kramer, Iris Finkemeier, Hirofumi Nakagami, Kenichi Tsuda, Takashi Ueda, Paul Schulze-Lefert, and Akihiko Nakano.
Plant Physiol. 179 (2) 519-532 (2019). *Co-first authorship.
Modular Traits of the Rhizobiales Root Microbiota and Their Evolutionary Relationship with Symbiotic Rhizobia.
Ruben Garrido-Oter*, Ryohei Thomas Nakano*, Nina Dombrowski*, Ka-Wai Ma, The AgBiome Team, Alice C. McHardy, and Paul Schulze-Lefert.
Cell Host & Microbe 24(1), 155–167 (2018). *Co-first authorship.
PYK10 Myrosinase Reveals a Functional Coordination between ER Bodies and Glucosinolates in Arabidopsis thaliana.
Ryohei Thomas Nakano, Mariola Piślewska-Bednarek, Kenji Yamada, Patrick P. Edger, Mado Miyahara, Maki Kondo, Christoph Böttcher, Masashi Mori, Mikio Nishimura, Paul Schulze-Lefert, Ikuko Hara-Nishimura, and Pawel Bednarek.
Plant J. 89: 204-220 (2017)
Academic degreeDoctor of Science (Ph.D. equivalent)
Self Introduction

I was born in the US, grew up in Tokyo, studied in Kyoto, and spent the last 10 years in Köln (Germany) as a postdoctoral researcher before I moved to Sapporo as a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. My research interest is to understand the art of life of plants in the presence of microbes at the cellular and molecular levels. I like to get myself soaked in music, play some instruments (guitar, piano, trombone, and euphonium), and watch football matches (mostly of 1.FC Köln), though I am mostly spending my private time taking care of four kids, including twins.

Academic background2007 B.Sci. Faculty of Science, Kyoto University
2009 M.Sci. Graduate School of Science, Kyoto University
2009 JSPS Research Fellow (DC1)
2012 Ph.D. Graduate School of Science, Kyoto University
2012 Postdoctoral Researcher, Kyoto University
2013 Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Plant Microbe Interactions, Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research
2013 JSPS Overseas Research Fellow
2019 Principal Investigator, Department of Plant Microbe Interactions, Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research
2023 Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Hokkaido University
Affiliated academic societyThe Japanese Society of Plant Physiologists, The Botanical Society of Japan, The Phytopathological Society of Japan, International Society for Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions
Room addressScience Building 5, 5-706