From Bio Journal - July 2005

Unapproved GM maize Bt10 detected at Nagoya port

On 1 June 2005, MAFF announced that the unapproved insecticide GM maize "Bt10" was detected in feed from the US unloaded at Nagoya port in Aichi Prefecture on 26 May. Bt10 was also detected at Tomakomai port in Hokkaido Prefecture on 30 May (announced on 3 June). MAFF therefore decided to expand its control to every shipment coming into Japan. A meeting was held on 26 May at the of the House of Representatives assembly hall, and both MAFF and MHLW said that the Japanese government's response to the unapproved Bt10 is basically at the same level as the European Union's de-facto US corn ban, where all US feed corn, feed gluten as well as feed from ethanol by-products are banned unless they are guaranteed to be Bt10 free, since if Bt10 is detected, the Japanese government will order the return of the shipment (See BJ June 2005).

Japan finds illegal Chinese GM rice hard to handle

On 22 April 2005, the Japanese government announced that it had checked its Chinese rice stock (145,000 tons) using the Elisa test to detect the insecticide toxin Cry1Ac and had found that the illegal Bt rice cultivated and distributed in China was not present in the stock. Previously, the government had said that there was no Chinese rice coming from Hubei Province into Japan, and that because the suspected rice was an Indica rice variety, there was therefore no possibility that the rice would be exported to Japan. (See BJ June 2005) On 26 May, at a meeting of the House of Representatives, some questions were put to MAFF and MHLW on this issue, concerning the possibility of cultivation of the rice in other areas, and also why the government did not conduct the PCR test. The ministries answered that the Japanese government has asked the Chinese government to provide more information, but have not yet received a response, and therefore Japan can do nothing more at present. On 13 June, Greenpeace released information stating that the Bt rice was being sold in Guangzhou City, Guangdong Province as well as in Hubei Province. Additionally, the Chinese government also ratified the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol on 8 June 2005.

Two new human ES cell research projects approved

The MEXT specialist committee overseeing human ES cell research held a meeting on 31 May 2005, at which were approved applications from the graduate schools of Gifu and Kyoto Universities for research projects using human ES cells. The research plans are for research including induction of differentiation on previously produced ES cells. (See BJ March 2005)

On the same day, changes in eight previously approved project plans were approved. The changes involved relatively minor matters, such as extensions of research periods, increase in numbers of staff, the introduction of additional cell lines and so on. This could possibly be interpreted as a sign that the projects were not progressing as planned. Since there is a difference in ability of differentiation between different human ES cell lines, those brought in from outside Japan having a low differentiation ability, some institutions are hoping to use an additional line produce by Kyoto University, which is thought to have a higher ability of differentiation.

300,000 person gene bank project samples pass the 130,000 mark

The MEXT Project to Actualise Order-made Medical Treatment, an important pillar of which is to amass blood samples and medical records for 300,000 cases and create a gene bank of the diseases under study, reached 97,308 donor samples and a total of 135,010 samples for the diseases under study (numbers differ due to multiple sample donations) by the end of April 2005. Application procedures for distribution of blood plasma and DNA samples has been initiated (see BJ April 2005) and 10 applications have apparently been received. (Nikkei Biotech 2005/5/23)

A similar project in Iceland (See BJ January 2003, April 2003, June 2003 has become world famous and is currently suspended. The local Decode Genetics company collected genetic data from all approximately 280,000 Icelandic citizens and constructed a database with the data, which it then tried to market. However, profits were not forthcoming and the scheme has failed.

In contrast to the Icelandic project, the 20 billion yen capital for establishing the Japanese bank has been supplied from the national budget and the blood plasma and DNA taken from the patients will be distributed to research institutions, including civilian institutions such as pharmaceutical manufacturing companies.

No use of cells from aborted foetuses

On 19 May 2005, a meeting 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 was held, at which inclusion of the use of stem cells originating from aborted foetuses in the guidelines was abandoned and it was agreed to finalise the guidelines on the basis of stem cells originating from other somatic cells. Concerning the use of cells from aborted foetuses, it was at first intended that this be approved under the guidelines, and intensive discussions had been taking place. However, when in the autumn of 2004 issues such as the discovery that a Yokohama gynaecology clinic (see BJ March 2005) had disposed of aborted foetuses as ordinary refuse, and that a Hansen's disease (leprosy) sanatorium had made medical specimens of aborted foetuses and deceased newborn babies came to light, the deliberations came to a halt. It is possible that MLHW judged that it would be better to put the issue of aborted foetuses to one side and first of all complete the guidelines for clinical research on human stem cells. It is now expected that the guidelines will be finalised after a further two meetings, following which public comments will be solicited.

Review of applications for GM tree outdoor trials to begin

On 9 June 2005, the Investigative Commission on Biodiversity Impact Assessment, which is jointly hosted by MAFF and MHLW, met and approved Monsanto's herbicide resistant cotton (MON88913) for type I use. Type I use means no impact on wild species, and is therefore approved for outdoor cultivation. The Commission also announced that it has agreed to set up a forestry sub-committee under the Commission, which will begin reviewing new applications it has received for GM trees.

Japanese government opinion on Codex Task Force

On 10 June 2005, Ms. Tamami Umeda, the officer of Food Planning and Coordination Division at MHLW explained the reasons why the Japanese government has selected the three issues mentioned below as its priorities for the Codex Task Force on Biotechnology II, which will be held from 19 September 2005, in Makuhari, Chiba Prefecture. The first priority is "food with 'stacked genes'" from second-generation crossbred GM plants (produced by crossbreeding two different GM plants), and the second is "nutritionally-enhanced GM plants", especially with Golden Rice in mind. The Japanese government has already approved some 'stacked genes' GMOs, and the second priority was easier for the government to propose since it is included in the GM food safety assessment standards, Ms. Umeda explained. The third priority is "GM fish". The government determined that it is difficult to consider all GM animals at this point since there is currently insufficient enough scientific data, and therefore GM fish should be discussed first.

Cartagena Protocol meeting bogged down

The Ministry of Environment announced that at the second meeting of the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, which was held between 30 May and 3 June 2005, in Montreal, Canada, the members of the Protocol could not agreed upon the focal point, which was the context of documentation for exporting LMOs/GMOs. Therefore the discussions will have to be continued at the next meeting. However, the original plan was to make a decision within two years from the date the Protocol went into effect, thus a question has been raised concerning the effectiveness of the Protocol.

Closeup: Hokuriku Research Center's multi-resistant GM rice

The Hokuriku Research Center (Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture), a part of NARC (National Agriculture Research Center) and under the independent administrative entity NARO (National Agriculture and Bio-oriented Research Organization) has been pushing forward with the trial cultivation of a new GM rice variety. This rice is a multi-resistant rice containing an anti-bacterial protein (defensin) from mustard (see Closeup, BJ June 2005).

The gene which confers disease resistance is the gene for the defensin (DEF) protein from mustard, and because the rice-originating promoter for the gene is characteristic of green leaf tissue and functions only in the leaves and stem of the plant, the defensin protein will not appear in the rice grain.

Further, the mALS gene used as the marker gene is a herbicide-resistant gene resistant to sodium bispiribach (sodium 2,6-bis(4,6-dimethoxypyrimidin-2-yloxy)benzoate), the active ingredient of "Nominee", a herbicide which became a registered agrochemical in 1997. This gene is also a rice-originating gene which is characteristic of callus (undifferentiated tissue for lab cultures), and so does not work in any plant individual besides calluses.

An RK2-line plasmid from Pseudomonas aeruginosa is used as the vector, and this contains an antibiotic (tetracyclin) resistance gene. This gene also said to be outside the area of the DNA transferred (T-DNA, Transferred DNA) from the plasmid into the genome of the rice plant. The rice variety into which the defensin protein gene has been inserted (Dontokoi) is also one which was developed at the same research centre.

Such is the explanation, but the fact that this is a group of artificially produced genes is no different from previous GM rice strains. Especially problematical are unintended effects which occur due to the insertion of the genes, whether they be from individual genes or because of the combination of genes inserted. Problems may occur because the amount of DNA material has increased, or the location in which the genes have been inserted may block or destabilize the working of other genes.

At the research centre, the cultivation trials are being carried out on an "isolation field" simply surrounded by a wire net fence. This is no different from an ordinary field from the point of view of pollen dispersion. According to Mr. Hyoji Namai, the lifetime of rice pollen is five to six minutes. Assuming it is five minutes, at a wind speed of 1 m/s pollen would travel 300 m, at 3 m/s that would be 900 m, and at 5 m/s the pollen would travel 1.5 km. The nearest farm is only 220 m. from the trial.

The purpose of the current trial is "line selection". In this trial, seven cultivars from five lines of GM rice have been planted and it is expected that line selection will be carried out from among these.

Note: Links are provided for the information of users of this website. Links to websites in no way implies CBIC endorsement for views expressed in those websites, nor can CBIC take any responsibility for the content of those websites.

(English Index)