From Bio Journal - March 2005

Use of cells from aborted fetuses likely to be postponed

On 3 February 2005, a meeting was held of the expert committee (an advisory body to the Welfare Minister, Health Science Council) which is now preparing guidelines for the clinical study of the use of human stem cells. Agreement was reached on the notion that further discussion is necessary concerning stem cells from aborted fetuses. The committee has been involved in intensive discussions on the basis that it intends to approve the use of cells from deceased fetuses. However the discovery that a Yokohama gynecology clinic had disposed of aborted fetuses as ordinary refuse, and that a Hansen's Disease (leprosy) sanatorium, among others, had made medical specimens of aborted fetuses and deceased newborn babies has apparently caused the MHLW to take a deeper look into the situation. It now looks as if the committee will have to hold overall discussions on the use of cells from deceased fetuses, including for basic research purposes.

MAFF approves 13 new GM crop plants

A meeting of the Biodiversity Impact Assessment Commission was held on 3 February 2005. An application from Monsanto for a herbicide resistant soybean and an application from the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences (NIAS) for a rice which acts as a countermeasure against cedar pollen allergy were approved under the "Type 1 Use" regulations along with other applications totaling 13 items from five different plant varieties. "Type 1 Use" is an assessment of no impact on wildlife, thus permitting ordinary open cultivation. The Monsanto GM soybean had been held over from the previous session and was granted approval on the condition that possible crossbreeding with wild soybean in the locality of cultivation is investigated. (See BJ Jan 2005)

MEXT approves a further five programs for use of human ES cells

On 31 January 2005, a meeting of the specialist committee on research into embryos and human ES cells (a consultative body of MEXT under the Council for Science and Technology) was held. Five new applications for a programs utilizing human ES cells were approved, including a differentiation induction program for hematogenetic stem cells at Tokyo University Medical Research Institute, and a joint research program between the bioventure Stem Cell Sciences Ltd. and Riken (an Independent Administrative Institution under MEXT). A program for utilization of human ES cells refers to a research program that utilizes human ES cells that have already been produced. The human ES cells that will be used in the five programs approved will all be provided by Kyoto University Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences.

Closeup: Current State of GM Crop Cultivation in Asia

China has become the largest GM crop cultivating country in Asia. China has grown Bt cotton since 1997, planted area to this crop reaching 3.7 million hectares in 2004, 66% of the total planted area of 5.6 million hectares. The cultivation of GM rice is about to be approved in China, GM trees are being planted, GM cows are being born, and there is now the possibility that GM potatoes will be cultivated.

The cultivation of GM cotton began in India in 2002 and reached 500,000 hectares (6% of the total planted area of 9 million hectares) in 2004. GM cotton is thought to have been grown by around 300,000 small-scale and subsistence farmers in India in 2004.

In the Philippines, GM maize cultivation began in 2003 and reached a planted area of 52,000 hectares in 2004.

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