interview with professor Takashi Bungo
 
The main subject in our laboratory is to grasp both physical and mental conditions in domestic animals. My predecessor in the laboratory always said that the most inconvenient animal is a “domestic animal” because they cannot move freely to the comfortable place (e.g., the place with many feed or cool shade). We should know as much as possible about these animals in order to raise them in better ways. This should be a task given to those who rear domestic animals.
 
I have pursued research as my interest dictates, examining various factors associated with the feeding behavior of domestic animals.
 
  “I am something like “drug (general) store” says Professor Bungo describing his research style. With a smile on his face, he continues, “When someone ask me about my field of specialty or research area, I am at a loss for the answer. Then, I manage to answer so because I must do anything to make the comfortable environment for domestic animals”

The central issue underlying his research activities is the feeding behavior of animals. Since animals cannot speak, appetite can be one of the indicators of their physical condition. He explains, “We can think of many factors that contribute to a decreased appetite. The main theme of my current research work is to identify various mechanisms associated with eating.”

According to the professor, “KACHIKU KANRI (it means husbandry and management in the domestic animal)” is a study subject approved in the 1960s by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture based on the application submitted by the professor who established this laboratory and served as its first head. When Professor Bungo was a student, Hiroshima University was a sort of mecca for researchers in this subject.
 
He also explains that “KACHIKU KANRI” is a study that combines two disciplines of behavioral science and environmental physiology in domestic animals. He says, “KACHIKU KANRI was introduced in post-war Japan, when intensive livestock farming began in this country, as a subject designed to provide a systematic knowledge of best husbandry and management practices. The study of animal behavior enables us to understand the physical condition of individual animals by looking at their behavior. Meanwhile, environmental physiology of domestic animals looks into rearing environments, such as facility buildings, the air and temperature, for livestock management. As a combination of these two disciplines, animal behavior and physiology provides the knowledge and information that we humans, who feed and raise livestock, must know, such as the proper environment and methods for rearing animals and actions to be taken when animals exhibit abnormal behaviors or signs.”

He quotes his predecessor as saying that “KACHIKU KANRI” can be likened to the department of psychosomatic medicine in a hospital. “Psychosomatic medicine is not psychiatry nor internal medicine, but a medical specialty that aims to improve health by comprehensively addressing both physical and mental conditions as well as the environment surrounding the patient. If this is applied to livestock, the primary objective of KACHIKU KANRI is to understand the body and mind of domestic animals to improve the environment surrounding them.”
 
 
We are developing a “secret weapon” for restoring the appetite of chickens in collaboration with a local municipality.
 
  At the Graduate School of Biosphere Science, research activities should be carried out from the perspective of bioresource production, or with the aim of increasing livestock productivity. A decrease in feed intake leads to lowered production. Then, what are the factors that contribute to a loss of appetite? This is how research work can be started.

“One of the factors that affect feed intake is stress, particularly from summer diurnal heat in recent years. Research methods include behavior observation, analysis and investigation. We also measure the levels of adrenaline (epinephrine) and other monoamine neurotransmitters in the blood or brain using high-speed liquid chromatography to check for any increase.”

To evaluate the various stress tolerances in chickens, researchers lay the chick on its back to make it feel tense, or conduct a mirror test to see if the chick attacks its own reflection. Such stress tests can be designed to analyze the differences not only among individual chicks, but also among the different breeds of chickens. Further studies in the genetic background of stress-tolerant chickens will eventually produce an indicator for the selection of the chicken breed to be raised.
 
Just as humans, domestic animals lose their appetite under high ambient temperature. Animals have unique body temperature regulating mechanisms, which makes it difficult for farmers to regulate their livestock’s appetite. Professor Bungo explains, “Heat is produced in the digestion and absorption processes. To decrease heat production, animals dare not eat. Heat dissipation mechanisms also take place to prevent a rise in body temperature. Based on these observations, we have carried out research activities to explore ways to maintain and improve livestock productivity. In one such effort, we have undertaken a research project in collaboration with Wakayama Prefecture, aiming to improve feed. For example, we can add to the feed a substance that will reduce the adverse effects of the heat produced in the digestion and absorption processes. We are considering producing such a substance from by-products as a way to conserve resources and cut costs at the same time.”

One of the possibilities is a substance made from plum vinegar, a by-product from pickling Japanese Ume plums, a local specialty of Wakayama Prefecture. By adding the substance to the feed, producers may be able to avoid the decline in feed intake of chickens in summer. He explains, “The anti-oxidant component contained in the plum-vinegar-processed substance will help alleviate oxidative stress induced by summer heat, thereby preventing a loss of appetite in chickens. We are already using this feed additive for chickens to test its efficacy in terms of both productivity and the physiological functions of chickens.”
 
 
A tremendous sense of pleasure is my incentive to research. I feel really great when I find a link.
 

  Before entering the university, Professor Bungo wanted to study entomology. He says, “However, many “A” grades were required to join the preferred laboratory, so I gave up and enrolled in the laboratory of my second choice, which specializes in zoology. When choosing my specialty area within the field of zoology, I thought of King Solomon’s Ring, a book about animal behavior that I found interesting in my high school days. So I decided to undertake research in ethology.”

He ended up joining the animal feed and nutrition laboratory, which also covered the field of ethology. He recalls, “In the laboratory, I investigated the feeding behavior of goats while conducting research on feeds. This was the beginning of my research career.”

He was strongly influenced by a professor who arrived in the laboratory later. He says, “The professor was conducting research on the brain, hormones and feeding behavior using chickens. When assisting him in his research, I keenly realized that, without linking physiological and behavioral aspects, we cannot fully discuss the feeding behavior of animals. I decided to take this approach to analyses of feeding behavior. In this way, the direction of my research became clearer.”

Asked about the appeal of research for him, Professor Bungo replies, “I start by formulating a hypothesis, test it by conducting experiments, organize data and draw a conclusion. When I finish writing a research paper, I feel awesome pleasure.” He often talks about this feeling to his research fellows, who say that “awesome” is a slightly weird expression.

“I would like to add that I am not so interested in the details. I feel excited when I find a link between things by taking a panoramic view. From there, my research may develop in a new direction. This is why I always feel like undertaking one thing after another while I am working on a research theme,” says the professor with another impish smile on his face.

He wishes to further expand the scope of his research areas in the future. For now, he has got different breeds of chickens to investigate the relationship between their characteristics and behavior. Professor Bungo has built a positive relationship with undergraduate and graduate students in the laboratory, fostering a favorable learning climate.

Most students are successful in finding jobs. He says, “Many of our graduates are working at the livestock experiment stations of the prefectural governments. Some graduates get research jobs at other universities or colleges. Those alumni and alumnae often contact me to seek advice. In some cases, students work together to find solutions.”

As one of the characteristics of Hiroshima University, he mentions free-spirited and open-minded students. He is looking forward to welcoming students who have a strong intellectual curiosity and who will bring inquiring minds to the laboratory.
 
Takashi Bungo
Professor
Laboratory of Animal Behavior and Physiology (Kachiku Kanri)

April 1, 2000 - July 31, 2005: Associate Professor, Ehime University, Faculty of Agriculture, Department of Bioresource Science
August 1, 2005 - : Associate Professor, Hiroshima University, Graduate School of Biosphere Science
December 1, 2008 - present: Professor, Hiroshima University, Graduate School of Biosphere Science

Posted on Apr 17, 2015