When Hitoshi Kihara observed chromosomes of the wheat genus at cell division, he noticed that in wheat, seven chromosomes become a pair that performs the lowest gene function. He named it the “genome.” The concept of the genome extended all over the world and formed the basis for today’s development of biology and genetic engineering. (H.Winkler defined the genome as a pair of a gamete’s chromosome in 1920.)
Hitoshi Kihara (October 21, 1893 – July 27,1986,) majored in plant physiology at the Department of Agriculture of Hokkaido Empire University, graduating in 1918. He went on to graduate school where he began his research into wheat. He was appointed assistant in the Department of Science at Kyoto Empire University in 1920 and assistant professor in the Department of Agriculture at this university in 1924, when he presented his dissertation. It was extensively read by his international peers who went so far as to call it the textbook of genetic engineering. For three years (1924-1927) he was in Europe and the United States studying with geneticists Correns and others. After returning to Japan, he was promoted to full professor in 1927, and continued in this position to research until 1956 the genetics of wheat, specializing in genome analysis.
When a cell of an organism divides in two, the genetic material DNA in the nucleus changes into a chromosome in order to be equally divided. Every organism has chromosomes of a determined number, shape and size; for example, humans have 46 chromosomes, 23 kinds for each pair.
Based on his genome theory, Kihara researched the genetic code of species closely related to wheat and examined the process of evolution. He continued to develop this method of analyzing genomes collecting results of his. He formulated a hypothesis that wheat for use in bread was generated from the hybridization of macaroni wheat with 14 chromosomes with other species with having 7. He subsequently discovered a wild species that confirmed his theory during field expeditions in, among others, Afghanistan and Iran. This discovery of the wheat’s ancestor made the name of Mr. Kihara known all over the world.
He also helped to develop new wheat species that were resistant to insects and disease. His genome analysis method was applied to other plants yielding results in research into genealogy, evolution and breed improvement of plants. The seedless watermelon was on result of these breeding advances.
His efforts were internationally acclaimed as landmark achievements.
Moreover, it was through his remarkable accomplishments that the genetics of cultivated plant evolution was fully understood, becoming the foundation for the field of genetics in Japan.
In 1955, immediately before his retirement from Kyoto University, he became head of the National Institute of Genetics where he carried on his work till 1969. He then became head of the Kihara Institute for Biological Research (Foundation), established in Kyoto in 1942 and subsequently moved to Yokohama. He became the honored head in 1984 when this Institute was transferred to Yokohama City University. In 1948, he received an Order of Culture.
Besides his professional interest in genetics, he was an avid sportsman. He was a member of the Hokkaido University skiing club and was a pioneer in the skiing world. He was a leader of Japanese team at the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics in the US, in which saw Japanese full scale participation in the post-war period, and then again at the next in 1964 Winter Olympics at Innsbruck, Austria. He was an active member of the Organizing Committee for the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo.