Faculty Member

Dr. Paola Laurino

Unit members

Dr. Saacnicteh Toledo Patino, Postdoctoral Scholar

Email: saacnicteh.toledo[at]

I was born and raised in Morelia, Mexico. In 2008, I moved to Germany to pursue my graduate studies at the University of Tübingen, where I obtained a Diploma in Biochemistry. In 2014, I joined Prof. Birt Hoecker's group for Protein Engineering and Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Biology, where I obtained a Ph.D degree in Structural Biology.

Since completing my doctoral studies, my work has focused on elucidating fundamental principles of protein evolution and exploring how nature utilizes a "copy and paste" mechanism to recycle protein fragments, much like Lego bricks. In December 2019, I joined Prof. Laurino's unit for Protein Evolution and Engineering. My research interest at OIST revolves around understanding how minimal changes in protein sequences, particularly insertions and deletions, contribute to the diversification of functions in Rossmann enzymes. Additionally, I am interested in unravelling the emergence of the very first protein architectures at the origin of life.

Dr. Benjamin Clifton, Staff Scientist

Email: benjamin.clifton[at]

I was born in Sydney, Australia and completed an undergraduate degree in chemistry (PhB (Sci) Hons) and PhD degree in protein biochemistry (2013-2016) at the Australian National University in Canberra. Protein evolution has been a longstanding interest for me, in particular, understanding how complex and functionally diverse proteins evolve through a simple process of mutation and selection, and how we can use this knowledge practically for protein engineering purposes.

During my PhD research in Prof. Colin Jackson's group, I studied the evolution of new protein functions in the solute-binding protein superfamily using ancestral protein reconstruction, a technique that allows extinct proteins to be recreated so that their evolutionary history can be studied in the lab. I then worked in a research role at Affinity Bio (Melbourne, Australia, 2017-2019), where I contributed to the development of antibodies against challenging targets for use in cancer immunotherapy. I joined the Protein Engineering and Evolution Unit at OIST in January 2020 to study how cellular tRNA modifications affect the outcome of protein evolution by controlling the error rate of protein synthesis. I'm also interested in developing new methods for functional annotation of solute-binding proteins for use in biosensor applications.

Dr. Prashant Jain, Postdoctoral Scholar

Email: prashant.jain[at]

I am Prashant, born and brought up in the capital of India, Delhi. After completing my bachelor's in 2014 from my hometown, I moved to Pune for higher studies. I joined the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune, under an integrated Ph.D. program. After completing my master's (2014-2016), I obtained my Ph.D. in organic chemistry under Dr. Raghavendra Kikkeri in 2021. I joined OIST as a postdoctoral fellow in May 2021 in Prof Laurino's unit. Here, I am looking forward to playing with RNAs to unravel fundamental questions surrounding the RNA universe.

Dr. Yusran Abdillah Muthahari, Postdoctoral Scholar

Email: yusran.muthahari[at]

Hi all! My name is Yusran; was born in Garut, Indonesia. I completed my undergraduate and master's degree in Chemistry at Institut Teknologi Bandung, Indonesia (2010-2015). I acquired my double Ph.D. degree from the University of Groningen (the Netherlands) and KU Leuven (Belgium) in 2021. I then continued the research of my thesis for one year at IMBB-FORTH, Greece in Prof. Gkouridis Lab before joining the Protein Engineering and Evolution Unit of Prof. Laurino at OIST in July 2022.

I have a massive interest in protein evolution, specifically in how protein could acquire/delete modular structural elements to evolve distinct functions. Such may lead us on understanding why nature performs addition/deletion besides mutation during evolution. For that, we need to uncover the relationship between the structure, dynamics, energetics, and functions of the protein. In my previous study, I tested such a concept using solute binding proteins (SBPs). With Prof. Laurino, I would like to explore if such is also applicable to enzymes! I will mainly work on modular enzymes and see how similar cores can adapt to various modular elements during evolution. Besides, I am also interested in how life could emerge, and adapt from so simple a beginning. Personally, I truly hope that understanding the origin of life would help me to deepen my understanding of the meaning of life.

Dr. Paul Matthay, Postdoctoral Scholar


I was born and raised in the beautiful city of Dresden, Germany, where I finished my studies in process engineering with the focus on bioprocesses. Afterwards, I was fortunate enough to follow a PhD program in metabolic and genetic engineering in the KU Leuven, Belgium. After obtaining my PhD in bioengineering in 2023 I moved to the wonderful island of Okinawa to pursuit a Postdoc with Paola Laurino.

In the centre of my research interest is the applicability of science and to make the jump from fundamental science to real life application. Within my PhD I worked extensively on producing fine chemicals using microbes and within the project in Okinawa we focus on the reverse: to degrade toxic material using microbes, namely PFAS. Together with Prof. Laurino, we are using genetic, metabolic and evolutionary approaches to construct our microbes. Next to my passion for science I am also a runner and enjoy board games and video games.

Dr. Gen-ichiro Uechi, Technician

Email: Gen-ichiro.Uechi[at]

I'm Uechi. I joined in Apr. 2019. I was born in Okinawa and got a Ph.D. at the University of the Ryukyus.  I want to spread the beauty of Okinawa and want to be a bridge with younger generation

Mr. Alessandro Bevilacqua, PhD Student

Email: alessandro.bevilacqua[at]

I was born in Milan (Italy) where I obtained a master's degree in Plant Biotechnology at University of Milan. During my master's thesis I worked on protein expression and purification; since that experience, I have been interested in proteins' world.
I started my PhD here at OIST in January 2020 and I am really enjoying my stay here in Okinawa, both for the amazing places around and for how OIST do science: by promoting inclusion, equity, know-how sharing between different fields. 
I feel I am in a community that is working together to promote a better future and, in my opinion, this is what science should be about. In fewer word: sow science to harvest future!

Mr. Yoshiki Ochiai, PhD Student

Email: yoshiki.ochiai[at]

I was born and grew up in Osaka, Japan. I studied in molecular biology, biochemistry, and biophysics at Soka University, Tokyo. I got my master degree in Saitama university, and, at the same time, I worked in RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Center (CSRS) and The University of Tokyo. I joined in Protein Engineering and Evolution Unit from May 2020. Here I have engaged in designing novel enzymes for solving biological problems.



Mr. Dan Kozome, PhD Student

Email: dan.kozome2[at]

I was born and raised in Tokyo and moved to Okinawa in 2013. I obtained a bachelor's and master's degree in Agriculture at the University of the Ryukyus, where I was engaged in thermostabilizing an enzyme and in creating chimera enzymes by protein engineering (2013-2019). After internship and Gap program research at this Unit, I finally joined the Protein Engineering and Evolution Unit as a PhD student to start research focusing on how proteins acquire the function.  I am so happy to come back here to work with wonderful members and in a fascinating environment.



Ms. Amy Gooch, PhD Student

Email: amy.gooch[at]

I graduated from Durham University (in the UK) with a Joint Honours degree in Biology and Chemistry. My background is in organic chemistry and biochemistry, and I have a keen interest in the sophisticated chemistry carried out by enzymes. During my masters, I used the nickel-responsive regulator (NikR) as a model protein to probe the mechanisms by which proteins are loaded with their cognate metal(s). I joined the Protein Engineering and Evolution Unit so that I may investigate fascinating new topics related to proteins. Whilst carrying out my rotation in this unit, I hope to develop new skills and techniques, and learn a lot from the other members!

Ms. Lilian Magnus, PhD Student

Email: lilian.magnus[at]

I was born in Düsseldorf, Germany but spent most of my childhood in Belgium, after which I completed my bachelors and Masters degree at Imperial College London. It was there that I studied cellular biology and developed a real passion for science. During my undergraduate studies I was also able to complete an internship in Mishima, Shizuoka which sparked my interest in potentially returning to Japan for my phd studies. 

Originally I had joined the Laurino Lab as my out of field rotation, but I quickly fell in love with my project. As someone who really loves exploring the newer areas of science, this lab allows me to use cutting edge techniques to pursue questions at the forefront of the field, while working on becoming a better scientist!

Ms. Erika Fukuhara, PhD Student

Email: erika.fukuhara[at]

I was born in Okinawa but grew up mostly outside of Japan - in Germany and in the United States. I graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor's in Biology. During my undergraduate studies, I developed a growing interest in proteins, particularly protein interactions and their associated mechanisms. 

Having roots in Okinawa, starting my PhD studies at OIST has not only allowed me to pursue a graduate education but also has provided me an opportunity to reconnect with my Okinawan family. I joined the Protein Engineering and Evolution Unit from May 2022 as a rotation student. I am looking forward to gaining new skills and exploring the world of proteins during my rotation.

Ms. Trang Vy Bui, Research Intern

Email: trangvy.bui[at]

I am a Vietnamese-American from Massachusetts. I am currently finishing my bachelors in biochemistry with a minor in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. At my home University, I worked with silver nanoparticle and gold nanostar inks, but my research interests have always been based in protein biology, immunology, and drug development.With the Protein Engineering and Evolution unit I hope to acquire new skills and learn more about the world of proteins. I love to travel and have also studied in South Korea. Outside of work, I like to taste and eat different types of food, hang out with friends, go to the beach, play video games, and sleep. Japanese culture is fascinating and I am excited to explore it. In particular, Okinawa is a beautiful island with its own rich culture that I look forward to experiencing while here at OIST.

Ms. Diana Nechepurenko, Research Intern

Email: diana.nechepurenko[at]

I am a master’s student from Kyiv, majoring in Bioinformatics and Structural Biology. My first serious position as a computational biologist was in a Ukrainian biotechnological company, working on ADME-T databases for Drug Discovery and Development. Before I came to OIST, I was also doing an internship in South Korea. My research was on spectral tuning of Bovine rhodopsin using bioinformatics tools such as modeling, docking, mutagenesis, coevolution and MSA analysis. After experience both in academia and industry, I understood that being a “dry lab” scientist gives me more freedom and flexibility.

In Paola Laurino’s Unit I want to use my acquired skills and to gain new ones, while contributing to ongoing research. Moreover, I find OIST a great place for scientific networking with a supportive approach. I enjoy my time here and see it as an important stage of my career.

Mr. Mauricio Andres Rios Maciel, PhD Student

I’m from Mexico City, where I obtained  my MSc in Biotechnology at ITESM, with a project focused on evaluating the effect of hydrogels as an extracellular matrix and cell culture on a microfluidic device. Following my interest in microfluidics,  I did an internship at OIST under Prof. Amy Shen supervision where I worked on a biosensors paper. I decided to join the Laurino unit to further my understanding on chemical interactions, as well as to find the interface where microfluidics and biology can meet. Besides research I enjoy working out, cooking and baking, live music, watching movies and roaming around Okinawa.


Ms. Shiho Saito, Research Unit Administrator

Email: shiho.saito[at]