SACRAMENTO — UC Davis plant sciences professor Kentaro Inoue, 47, was killed in a bicycle crash Aug. 31 on West Capitol Avenue in Sacramento.

Police said Inoue and a waste management truck were both going west — Inoue, with a helmet on, riding in the bike lane — when the truck turned into Inoue’s path, and the bike and truck collided.

Kentaro Inoue
Kentaro Inoue

Sgt. Roger Kinney said Inoue was dead when officers arrived at 7:50 a.m. He said the collision appears to have been an accident, though the investigation continues and the report will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office. Kinney said the truck driver cooperated with police, and there was no indication the driver was impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Inoue is survived by his wife, Amy Brown, who completed undergraduate work in physiology at UC Davis and went on to receive a UC Davis doctorate of veterinary medicine in 2003. She is a veterinarian in Roseville.

Inoue’s friend Takao Kasuga, a U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher in molecular genetics in the Department of Plant Pathology, said Inoue and Brown were married in February. “He moved (from Davis) to her house in Sacramento and commuted to Davis by bike since then,” Kasuga said.

Kasuga had known Inoue since their days as postdocs at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Oklahoma. “When I first came to Davis, Kentaro helped me settle into the area, taking me hiking, to numerous restaurants and introducing me to the wine club he was a member of at that time,” Kasuga said. “He was generous, kind, a good friend and I will miss him.”

Inoue joined the UC Davis faculty in 2002 as an assistant professor in agricultural plant biology. “Kentaro was an outstanding scientist and a well-liked faculty member,” said Joe DiTomaso, professor and interim chair, Department of Plant Sciences. “He was always positive and friendly and will be missed both for his research and his personality.”

Students had honored Inoue for his teaching, voting for him to receive an ASUCD Excellence in Education Award. A write-up on the Department of Plant Sciences website stated: “Inoue’s students love how he makes agricultural plant biology so accessible, bringing to life topics such as plastid biogenesis, protein trafficking, protein maturation, membrane development, photosynthesis and isoprenoid metabolism.”

He was a native of Japan, where he received bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, all in pharmaceutical sciences, all at the University of Tokyo.

Beyond his research, Inoue also had a passion for mountain biking. “Biking and research may seem very different,” Inoue said in an article in 2007. “But both require you to be focused, patient and determined to be successful. Each offers different rewards, but they are equally enjoyable to me.”

The article, “Beakers and Bikes,” appeared in the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation’s Legacy magazine. Inoue spent two years as a postdoc at the Noble Foundation, having been guided there by UC Davis Professor Emeritus Eric Conn, who had met Inoue at a research conference and became his mentor.

Inoue moved from the Noble Foundation to Michigan State University for more postdoctoral work before joining UC Davis.

Tributes by Grad Students

“I have never known or worked with someone so dedicated to ensuring his/her students would be successful in the future. He relentlessly pushed us to be the best scientists we could be, and I am grateful to have worked with him for over two years.” — Lucas McKinnon, Ph.D. candidate, Inoue lab

“He was the chair of the program when I got accepted and I feel lucky I could count on his support during the beginning of my Ph.D. I am from Brazil and everything was new, challenging and exciting, but also scary for me. … At the end of orientation, Professor Kentaro asked me how I was feeling. I told him I was excited but definitely scared and worried if I could accomplish all of those requirements. He looked at me, and I will never forget what he said: ‘Cintia, if you are here, if we chose you to be part of the program, it is because we believe you can.’ I never forgot that and since then every time I struggle with classes or in the lab with my experiments I remember his words and they make me feel stronger to move on.” — Cintia Sagawa, Plant Biology Graduate Group

“I was taking the plant biology core course, in which Kentaro was teaching metabolism in plastids. He was describing biochemical pathways, and asked us some questions. Knowing biochemistry and metabolism is a difficult subject for many of us, he joked, ‘Oh, no, that was the only class I got a C in college!’ I’ll always remember his passion in science, his humor and his dedication to education.” — Chenxin Li, Plant Biology Graduate Group

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