Professor Tanabe’s contribution and influence is evidenced by many of his former students who are now entrepreneurial owners, laboratory supervisors, and laboratory technicians in firms involved in tissue culture.
By Christopher Lu, Professor of Animal Science.
It is not an overstatement to say that Professor of Plant Science Michael Tanabe is synonymous to tissue culture in Hawai‘i. If you mention tissue culture in Hawai‘i, many will immediately relate to Mike Tanabe. Professor Tanabe’s contribution and influence is evidenced by many of his former students who are now entrepreneurial owners, laboratory supervisors, and laboratory technicians in firms involved in tissue culture.
After four decades of outstanding service, Professor Michael Tanabe has announced his retirement.
Professor Tanabe is an enthusiastic teacher. He is known to be a meticulous, organized and firm educator. He came to his office early, often before 6:30 a.m. to prepare for his teaching. That has not changed after more than 42 years of teaching.
Many years ago, the presentation he made to the students of AG 100, Introduction to Agricultural Sciences, was one of the most organized and impressive. Students were fascinated with the possibility of propagation of plants in the millions at a given time.
Professor Tanabe taught a wide range of subjects in horticulture including HORT 264 Plant Propagation, HORT 303 Introduction to Plant Tissue Culture, HORT 304 Plant Tissue Culture Acclimatization, HORT 350 Tropical Landscape Horticulture, and HORT 450 Advanced Plant Tissue Culture. Occasionally he also taught Turf Management.
The tissue culture certificate that is designed to prepare students for immediate employment is among one of the most enrolled certificates on campus. Few know that Mike also taught KES 117 Mountain Biking voluntarily without compensation. He is an avid biker and one can often see him riding a bicycle around Hilo.
Dr. Tanabe’s primary research interest is micropropagation of tropical and subtropical crops. He has been involved in addressing many of the local industry needs via micropropagation including anthuriums, edible ginger, orchids, bananas, noni, awa, tea and taro.
Although tissue culture is technology oriented, Dr. Tanabe has published his research results in journals of plant tissue culture. He would tell you that in vitro grafting, encapsulation, and artificial seed technology are among the hot topics in tissue culture. His more recent research was on lowering the cost using liquid media and preservation and storage of germplasm of native and endangered plant species. He has demonstrated that photoautotrophy (culturing without sugar) is a more economical alternative for in vitro culturing.
Professor Tanabe is the only remaining original founder of the college. He would not hesitate to remind people of the founding principles and philosophy of the college, that is very much student-oriented. He holds a vision of establishing a specialized tissue culture building that can serve as a center of excellence in teaching, learning, and research.
As a Big Island native, he is always concerned about its future and development and growth. Humble in nature, Professor Tanabe is easy to converse with and is appreciated by his colleagues and students alike.
Nobel laureate Alexis Carrel once said, “A tissue is evidently an enduring thing. It’s functional and structural conditions become modified from moment to moment. Time is really the fourth dimension of living organisms. It enters as part into the constitution of a tissue. Cell colonies, or organs, are events which progressively unfold themselves. They must be studied like history.”
Professor Tanabe is part of the Big Island tissue culture history.
This article was originally published in the CAFNRM/Agriculture Club Newsletter Nov – Dec 2017 Issue 2.