Professor Akira Sakai being presented with Honorary Status by Dr. Barbara Reed at the 2000 World Congress on In Vitro Biology

Professor Akira Sakai

Professor Akira Sakai, a pioneer of plant cryobiology and plant cryopreservation, passed away on the 5th of October after a long hospitalization. He was 92-years old. Dr. Sakai was an honorary member of the Society for In Vitro Biology.

Prof. Sakai was a Professor in Plant Freezing Injury research section of the Institute of Low Temperature Science, Hokkaido University until his retirement in 1982. At the Institute of Low Temperature Science, He explored and developed a new direction of the research field “plant cold hardiness” in Japan. He studied physiological mechanisms of cold acclimation, cold hardiness and freezing avoidance. For the last several years of his tenure, he measured cold hardiness of thousands of plant species collected from all over the world and focused on considerations to evolution of strategies for winter survival in plants.

That was a great achievement for his career, but one of additional big surprise to everyone was that Prof. Sakai continued his activity after he left the Institute of Low Temperature Science. In Japan 30 year ago, very few retired professors continued to pursue research and there was no funding for their research projects. After retirement, he devoted himself to development of cryopreservation methods especially vitrification for preservation of plant genetic resources and endangered wild species. He worked in the labs of young scientists, giving them ideas and working with them to promote cryopreservation. He also spent a year at Oregon State University and the USDA germplasm laboratory after his retirement. He developed a plant vitrification solution (PVS2) that is one of the most widely used solutions for plant cryopreservation to date (Plant Cell Reports 9: 30-33, 1990, 500+ citations). In addition, he published many papers and text books.

He did not teach detailed things to students and give an answer to problems directly, but he rather asked the students to find the research topics and to solve the problems by themselves. He always gave proper advice and encouraged students to explore a new thing even if we could not obtain publishable data for a few years! He also provided opportunities for the students to drink with famous professors and researchers.

Prof Sakai loved gardening and had many rhododendrons and roses in his garden. His son, Dr. Ko Sakai is a Professor of computer science at the University of Tsukuba ( and Prof Akira Sakai’s wife, Taduko Sakai is in Sapporo (

Two former students sent this information: Dr. Matsuo Uemura, United Graduate School of Agricultural Sciences (Dean) Cryobiofrontier Research Center (Professor) Iwate University Morioka 020-8550, Japan and Dr. Masaya Ishikawa, Functional Plant Research Unit, Division of Plant Science, National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, Kannondai 2-1-2, Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan 305-8602

Submitted by Barbara M. Reed, PhD

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