Tashiro, Shiro

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(in Japanese sources called Tashiro Shirosuke )(b. Kagoshima prefecture, Japan, 12 February 1883: d. Cincinnati, Ohio, 12 June 1963)


Tashiro, the son of Shirobe and A. Tashiro, immigrated to the United States in 1901. After graduating B.S. from the University of Chicago in 1909, he served as fellow and assistant in physiological chemistry at Chicago from 1910 until he received the Ph.D. in 1912 at Chicago. In 1913–1914 he was an associate in physiological chemistry, in 1914–1918 instructor, and in 1918 an assistant professor at Chicago. Tashiro was appointed to the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 1919 as associate professor of biochemistry and assistant director of the Biochemistry Service, Cincinnati General Hospital. He returned to Japan for study, and on 26 July 1923 Kyoto University granted him the doctor of medical science degree for a dissertation entitled “Carbon Dioxide Production From Nerve Fibres When Resting and When Stimulated; A Contribution to the Chemical Basis of Irritability; A New Method and Apparatus for the Estimation of Exceedingly Minute Quantities of Carbon Dioxide.” Tashiro was appointed full professor at the University of Cincinnati in 1925. He retired in 1952.

Tashiro’s career was founded on his invention of the biometer, prior to which no method of analysis was available for minute quantities of carbon dioxide. In conjunction with H. N. McCoy, Tashiro devised an apparatus that could detect carbon dioxide in quantities as small as one ten-millionth of a gram. The fundamental principle of the biometer depended upon the possibility of precipitating exceedingly minute quantities of carbon dioxide as barium carbonate on the surface of a small drop of barium hydroxide solution. When the drop of barium hydroxide is exposed to any sample of a gas free from carbon dioxide, it remains clear; but when more than a definite amount of carbon dioxide is introduced, a precipitate of carbonate appears that is detectable through a lens. Tashiro found that the minimum amount of carbon dioxide that gives a precipitate is 1.0 X 10-7g. Through the use of the biometer Tashiro was able to conclude that injured living tissue (nerve tissue and dry seeds) had a greater output of carbon dioxide than uninjured tissue, while dead tissue did not emit any carbon dioxide. If injured tissue gave off carbon dioxide, it was still alive.

Tashiro’s contributions covered many fields: metabolism in nerves; metabolism gradation in the nerve considered as an organism; metabolism in the growth of tissues; anesthetics; biochemical and physiological factors in the production of a gastric ulcer; dacryohemorrhea; and cholinergics.

Tashiro married Shizuka Kawasaki of Honolulu on 9 November 1915. He contributed to numerous scientific journals, and was a president of the Cincinnati section of Sigma Xi, national honor research society, and the Daniel Drake Society. He received the Crown Prince Memorial Prize from the Imperial Academy of Japan and was a member of many chemical and biological societies in the United States, France, and in the United Kingdom In 1953 Tashiro became the first Japanese to be admitted to American citizenship at the Cincinnati Immigration and Naturalization office.

In almost all of his undertakings Tashiro’s observations were fundamental. His work on the nature of the nerve impulse and its propagation was intimately linked to his invention of the biometer. His studies on bile salts ranged from questioning whether there were bile salts in normal blood to a possible role for these compounds in formation of a gastric ulcer. With N. C. Foot, also of the University of Cincinnati, Tashiro translated an important treatise by Rinya Kawamura on tsutsugamushi disease, scrub typhus (1926).


I. Original Works. Tashiro’s published writings are A Chemical Sign of Life (Chicago, 1917) and numerous papers published in biochemical and physiological journals between 1914 and 1952, including American Journal of Physiology, Biological Bulletin, Internationale Zeitschrift für physikalisch-chemische Biologie, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Journal of Infectious Diseases, Medical Bulletin of the University of Cincinnati, Proceedings of the American Society of Biological Chemists, Proceedings of the National Academy, and Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine.

He and N. C. Foot translated Studies on Tsutsugamushi Fever, which is Medical Bulletin, College of Medicine, University of Cincinnati,4 , spec. nos. 1 and 2 (1926).

II. Secondary Literature. Biographical literature appears to be very scanty. Extremely brief references are made to Tashiro in Nihon Igakuhakase-Roku, Munetoshi Konuma, ed. (1954); and Kyoto Daigaku Gakui-Roku, 1921–1951 (“Directory of Doctorates Granted by Kyoto University”; Kyoto, 1952). He is listed in American Men of Science, 10th ed. (1962) and World Who’s Who in Science, 1949.

Some information on his life and work appeared in newspapers (1927–1963) and are on file at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Cincinnati, Ohio (Cincinnati Enquirer, 1927, 1943, 1953, 1963; New York Times, 1932, 1941, 1953; Cincinnati Post, 1945, 1953, 1963).

Stacey B. Day