From Bio Journal - March 2002

GM pigs and the second generation of GM crops

A team of researchers has transplanted a spinach gene into a pig for human consumption purpose. The team is lead by Prof. Akira Iritani of Kinki University's School of Biology-Oriented Science and Technology, who has been involved in cloned cow research, and also Prof. Norio Murata of the National Institute for Basic Biology in Okazaki, who has been working in genetically modified crop research.

The team inserted a vegetable gene, which produces an enzyme that does not exist in a mammals, from spinach into a fertilized ovum of a pig. Consequently linoleic acid, which is a principal unsaturated fatty acid of plants, was found in the genetically modified pig. The breeding of GM pigs has now enabled the spinach gene to be passed on to the 3rd generation. It is suspected that the GM pig is being developed for human consumption as a functional food.

Research and development into the second generation of GM crops is now being conducted. A GM soybean (260-05) with high oleic acid by DuPont K.K. has already undergone a safety assessment by MHLW and has gained approval for marketing for human consumption. R&D projects for GM soybean and GM canola with high lauric acid and high stearic acid being conducted. The second generation of GM crops with altered fatty acid proportions are being developed for the purposes of preventing common diseases, e.g. obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease caused by a more meat-oriented dietary change, which has destroyed the acidic balance in the human body. When you think about it, linoleic acid is contained in vegetable oil, so there is no particular need to eat GM pork if one eats vegetables.

Genome sequencing of rice to be completed by year end

According to an announcement by MAFF on 21 December 2001, the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project, set up to decipher the entire gene sequence of rice, has reached an agreement to complete the sequencing of the entire base sequence, estimated at 430 million, by around December 2002. This will complete the gene sequencing for rice with the exception of some areas which are particularly difficult to decipher, and brings forward the completion date, formerly expected to be 2008, by a huge six years.

This project is being pushed forward under international cooperation with MAFF playing a central part in Japan. Japan is expected to decipher around half of the total base sequence. Completion of this project will result in heightened activity in GM rice development.

MAFF establishes research centre to study rice genome use

MAFF has begun work on a rice genome sequencing centre to carry forward the work of rice protein analysis research. The supplementary budget for 2001 has been approved, and the centre will be established in the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences at Tsukuba City, just north of Tokyo. The center is expected to focus on the analysis of proteins produced by genes following the completion of the sequencing of the entire rice genome.

Unapproved GM papaya discovered

An unapproved Hawaiian GM papaya was discovered in Saitama Prefecture (immediately north of Tokyo) on 25 January. The unapproved papaya was of a virus resistant (ringspot virus) variety. Developed jointly by Cornell University, Hawaii University and Upjohn, this papaya variety went into commercial production in Hawaii in 1998. Under the Plant Protection Law, the import of papayas produced in any region except Hawaii is forbidden in order to prevent infection by diseases from overseas. Papayas are also produced in Japan, in Okinawa and on Amami-Ohshima Island, but the market is largely dominated by Hawaiian produce. With the inspection system for imported crops being almost nonexistent, it is quite likely that the import into Japan of GM papayas is not insignificant.

6 Ministries work for ratification of Cartagena Biosafety Protocol

The Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, establishing international guidelines for the movement of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs: living organisms artificially modified by genetic modification technology or cell fusion), was adopted in January 2001 in order to prevent adverse effects on biodiversity from the movement of LMOs across international borders. Ratification of the protocoil is now being considered by the countries of the world. The Japanese Government has established a Cartagena Biosafety Protocol-related government agency liaison conference within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the various ministries have set up sub-committees to carry out deliberations. (see table)

Of the ministries concerned the deliberations at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry are most advanced, publication of a preliminary report being expected in March. This is followed by MAFF, which is expected to produce a preliminary report as early as about mid-April. In comparison, the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology held their first meetings only at the beginning of this year.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cartagena Biosafety Protocol-related government agency liaison conference
Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry Sub-committee on LMO administration
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Round-table conference on environmental risk management for GM crops and so on
Ministry of the Environment Sub-committee on GMOs
Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Sub-committee on environmental effects of GMO experimental research
Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare currently considering the establishment of a committee in the International Affairs Division

Strategy on intellectual property, life patent issue begins

The sloppy nature of intellectual property rights management at public agencies has come to light following the gene spy incident at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research. The Cabinet Office General Council on Science and Technology therefore issued a proposal on this on 25 December 2001 and also decided to establish a special task force to formulate overall strategy on intellectual property rights. The background to this move is that efforts towards intellectual property rights, such as life patents, are now seen as a very important issue. This represents the first move towards the placing of intellectual property rights within the context of state strategy in Japan.

(English Index)