Fumio Inagaki

Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology

2015 The Asahiko Taira International Scientific Ocean Drilling Research Prize Winner

Fumio Inagaki was awarded the 2015 Asahiko Taira International Scientific Ocean Drilling Research Prize at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 16 December 2015 in San Francisco, Calif. The Taira Prize is a partnership between AGU and the Japan Geoscience Union (JpGU), and is made possible through a generous donation from the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Management International (IOPD–MI). The prize honors an individual for “outstanding transdisciplinary research accomplishment in ocean drilling.”


Fumio Inagaki is one of the most influential leaders in the science and technology of exploring life through ocean drilling. He has significantly advanced the study of microbial life in deeply buried sediment. He is internationally recognized as an innovator of techniques, standards, and instrumentation in ocean drilling geomicrobiological research. Fumio has published over 100 articles in renowned international journals and textbooks on life below the ocean floor. His truly interdisciplinary work combines microbiology, geochemistry, and geology with ocean drilling science and technology to understand the limits of life on Earth. His studies of the biogeochemical functions of deep–ocean microorganisms include transdisciplinary contributions to important societal challenges, such as the fate of Earth’s deep carbon, subseafloor carbon dioxide storage, and the microbial potential for converting carbon dioxide to methane in deeply buried coal beds.

Among his major scientific contributions through ocean drilling are the first demonstration of subseafloor biogeography of microbial life, the proof by stable–isotope tracing experiments that cells in deep subseafloor sediment are capable of metabolic activity, and the recent discovery of microbial life in deeply buried subseafloor coal by ultradeep ocean drilling. His achievements have not only pushed the frontiers of ocean drilling for deep biosphere research but also been influential in a broad range of other fields, such as extreme environment research, microbial ecology, geobiology, and astrobiology.

Fumio Inagaki’s exceptional leadership in the science and technology of ocean drilling include his outstanding support of young scientists and his engagement in design of the Chikyu, the most modern scientific drilling vessel. He has -co-led or participated in 10 ocean drilling expeditions focused on exploration and understanding of subsurface life. In all of his work, Fumio has shown exceptional generosity, dedication to international collaboration beyond any frontier, and amazing integrity as a person in a highly competitive field. He has a great sensibility for the achievements of others, which he is always ready to put before his own. He opens his lab at the Japan Agency for Marine–Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) to any international student or postdoc in need of advice or equipment. He has dedicated a lot of time to service on scientific boards and committees for the advancement of ocean drilling science. As the first recipient of the Taira Prize, Fumio Inagaki is honored for his exceptional scientific and technological leadership in international ocean drilling research.

—Antje Boetius, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Bremen, Germany; and Steven D’Hondt, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett


It is a tremendous honor for me to receive the prestigious Taira Prize. I would like to express my deepest thanks to Antje Boetius and Steve D’Hondt for their gracious citation, and AGU, Japan Geoscience Union (JpGU), and Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) for establishing the Taira Prize to recognize international scientific ocean drilling research.

My first participation in ocean drilling was on the U.S. drilling vessel JOIDES Resolution (JR) during the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Leg 201 off Peru and in the East Equatorial Pacific in 2002, which was the pioneering project dedicated to the study of subseafloor life and the deep biosphere. I had the good fortune to work with fantastic international colleagues during Leg 201, including the co-chief scientists Steve D’Hondt and Bo Barker Jørgensen. I still remember the electric blitz I felt when numerous geochemical and microbiological profiles were posted on the shipboard wall, which systematically showed the beautiful nature of the subsurface microbial ecosystems that we had explored with drilling. In 2010, I had the opportunity to sail as co-chief scientist with Steve on IODP Expedition 329 to explore the -ultra-​-oligotrophic South Pacific Gyre. This challenging adventure on the JR confirmed the deep penetration of dissolved oxygen into the deep–sea sediments from the seafloor to the basement and, for the first time, demonstrated that there are no limits to the aerobic sedimentary biosphere. In 2012, onboard the Japanese riser–drilling vessel Chikyu, I had the unprecedented second opportunity to sail as co-chief scientist, this time with Kai–Uwe Hinrichs, to explore the limits of deep life down to ~2.5 kilometers below the seafloor. During the Chikyu’s Expedition 337, it was an unforgettable moment with Kai and colleagues when we extended the previous scientific ocean drilling world record to a depth of 2466 meters and observed ultra–deep microbial life in ~20 million–year–old coal horizons.

I am particularly proud to have had the opportunity to explore the deep–biosphere frontiers working with many excellent teams and friends, not only in my geomicrobiology laboratory at JAMSTEC, but also during the drilling expeditions. Indeed, this first Taira Prize recognizes the efforts of the entire deep–biosphere ocean–drilling community. Finally, most importantly, I would like to especially thank my wife and family, who have always supported my scientific ventures. In 2011, Bo mentioned that “deep–biosphere research is still a young science with exciting challenges ahead”—where nobody has gone before.

—Fumio Inagaki, Japan Agency for Marine–Earth Science and Technology, Nankoku, Kochi, Japan