4 July 2023 – New EMBO Associate Member Yukiko Goda leads pioneering work into how synapses in the brain communicate. Yet it was perhaps down to her own language hurdles when her parents moved their family to Canada from Japan, that she found herself drawn to science. “I call myself an accidental scientist because I was always more interested in literature,” says Goda, who is a group leader at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST), Japan. “At university, I had tremendous experiences as an intern in organic chemistry and gene regulation labs, and this got me really interested in pursuing a career in research.”
It was an unexpected connection that landed Goda a postdoc role at the Salk Institute in the US. “I happened to be visiting an institute at the same time as my future group leader, Chuck Stevens, who was known to spend his summers away was back in town,” she says. “Although I had a cell biology background, I wanted to connect my research with electrophysiology, which is used to study how neurons transmit information in the nervous system. We were introduced and struck up a really nice conversation – he invited me to join his group on the spot.”
Goda has since gone on to head her own teams in the US, Europe, and now Japan, leading research into how synaptic connections form, function, and adapt – and more recently into the role of abundant glial cells called astrocytes. “Until relatively recently, it had been widely thought that astrocytes just played a passive supportive role in the nervous system,” she explains. “But it turns out this highly abundant type of glial cell play central roles in maintaining the health and function of the brain.
“I feel honoured to become an EMBO Associate Member and I am very much looking forward to building further connections with amazing life scientists across Europe and the world.”