In Remembrance: Dr. Kentaro Inoue (1968-2016)

  • Oct 6, 2016
  • alumni
  • By Drs. Kenneth Keegstra, Aaron Liepman and John Froehlich
Dr. Inoue
By The Noble Foundation

On August 31, 2016, the PRL lost a dear colleague and friend, when Kentaro Inoue was killed in a tragic accident as he rode his bicycle to work en route to the UC-Davis campus.

Kentaro Inoue was born in Japan in 1968 and spent his early years there. He received his PhD in 1996 from the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Tokyo working with Yutaka Ebizuka on a novel plant enzyme involved in the synthesis of plant steroids.  His studies included detection of the enzyme, purification of the protein, and molecular cloning of the gene.

He then performed postdoctoral research with Rick Dixon at the Noble Foundation where he studied enzymes involved in lignin biosynthesis. During a second postdoctoral period with Ken Keegstra in the Plant Research Laboratory at Michigan State University, Kentaro began studying chloroplast biogenesis, a topic that he would pursue for the remainder of his very productive scientific career. His early studies focused on biophysical aspects of the interaction between precursor proteins and the surface of chloroplasts.  He later moved into other aspects of precursor structure and function, especially as he began his independent career at the University of California at Davis in 2002.

Kentaro is remembered as much for his brilliant scientific mind as for the collegiality and positive spirit he brought into the laboratory. Kentaro was a valuable team member, always willing to help his labmates, to brainstorm and troubleshoot experiments, and to provide constructive criticism. Kentaro possessed great wit and a dry sense of humor that was appreciated by his colleagues and brought levity to the lab. His “poker-face” made it difficult to tell that the joke was on you, until it was too late! Kentaro was a friend, teacher, and source of inspiration to many at the PRL.

Kentaro also had a special way of bridging languages. For example, when Teruko Konishi arrived to work in Ken’s lab, Kentaro tried to “teach” her the proper pronunciation of her unfortunate e-mail address (konish*t@msu.edu). Poor Teruko! Others in the lab nearly died of laughter. On the other side of that coin, Kentaro was a very helpful teacher of the Japanese language. He taught his labmates some very useful words that could be used to get the attention of Japanese colleagues (definitely not rude words!).

Kentaro was an avid cycling enthusiast.  So much so, that Kentaro even had a bike trail named after him called, “Kentaro’s Monster,” located at Burchfield Park-Mountain Bike Trails  in Mason, MI.  Sometimes the “Monster” conquered Kentaro and sometimes Kentaro conquered his “Monster”!  So if you’re ever in Michigan and you’re into thrill rides just try the "Monster"!   Kentaro also enjoyed the adventures and challenges that came with participating in numerous cycling races.   Even his commitment to commuting to work by bicycle spoke to his love of cycling and his concern for the environment.

Screenshot of the trail named after Kentaro, alongside a picture of him in biking gear.

Our "Monster" biker, friend, and PRL colleague will be greatly missed!

Kentaro is survived by his wife, Amy, his parents, Drs. Yasuhiko and Yuko Inoue, and by his sister, Meiko Inoue, in Japan.


The link below is provided for anyone who wishes to make a contribution towards Kentaro’s memorial bench in the UC-Davis Arboretum.