From Bio Journal - August 2005

Trend: GM rice R&D in now occurring worldwide

Research and development of GM rice varieties is becoming very active in the world these days. In Japan, the Hokuriku Research Center at the National Agricultural Research Center (NARC) in Niigata Prefecture has started a field trial of its rice blast and white leaf blight resistant GM rice containing anti-bacterial protein from mustard this year (see BJ July 2005 and this issue), but there are others like, cedar pollen allergenic GM rice (see this issue), erect-leaved semi-dwarf GM rice, semi-dwarf GM rice as well as iron-deficiency tolerant GM rice.

Overseas, Syngenta has developed a so-called "new golden rice", which contains more B-carotene, according to the company, and the IRRI director general, Dr Robert S. Zeigler said that he is hoping to conduct field trials for it within 2 years and to commercialize it within 5 years.

The situation in China is being watched closely right now. The issue of the illegal GM rice (see BJ July 2005), which has been cultivated and distributed in Hubei province, has drawn much attention, but further, the Chinese GMO Biosafety Committee recommended in December 2004 that the Ministry of Agriculture give a safety permit to Xa21 GM rice, which is protected against bacterial blight, for commercialization, but the Ministry has not yet granted the permission.

Moreover, there is some "pharmaceutical-producing GM rice" development going on in the US. Ventria Bioscience in California has developed a drug-producing GM rice, which produces two types of proteins, human lactoferrin and lysozym.

According to an FAO report entitled "Status of research and application of crop biotechnologies in developing countries: Preliminary assessment", published in 2005, field trials have been conducted for herbicide glufosinate resistant GM rice (LL rice) in Brazil and Lepidoptera-resistant transgenic rice (Bt rice) in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Table 1) Status of development of GM rice (Developer)
2004: Outdoor trials completed - Tryptophan high-accumulation GM rice (National Agriculture and Bio-oriented Research Organization National Institute of Crop Science - NICS)
- High-photosynthesis GM rice (National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences - NIAS)
2005: Outdoor trials being conducted - Cedar pollen allergenic GM rice (National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences - NIAS)
- Rice blast and white leaf blight resistant GM rice containing anti-bacterial protein from mustard (Hokuriku Research Center)
- Iron-deficiency tolerant GM rice (Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, The University of Tokyo) * field trial being conducted at Graduate School of Agricultural Science, Faculty of Agriculture, Tohoku University.
- Erect-leaved semi-dwarf GM rice (National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences - NIAS)
- Semi-dwarf GM rice (National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences - NIAS)
2007: Outdoor trials planned - Psychrotolerant GM rice (National Agricultural Research Center for Hokkaido Region - NARCH)
Abroad China GM Bt rice (Huazhong Agricultural University)
GM Xa21 rice (Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences - CAAS)
GM CPTI rice (Chinese Academy of Sciences - CAS)
Philippines GM golden rice (Syngenta)
Brazil Herbicide glufosinate resistant GM rice (Bayer CropScience)
Iran GM Bt rice (Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran - ABRII) * in collaboration with the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute - IRRI.
US Drug producing GM rice (Ventria Bioscience)

China's response to illegally cultivated GM rice

On 15 June 2005, the Department of Food Safety at MHLW divulged that it had received a response from the Chinese government regarding the illegal GM rice cultivation in China as early as 22 April. According to the MHLW's limited announcement, the Chinese authority responded, 1) there is no record of Bt rice export to Japan, and it is not at the stage of commercialization, 2) no further information will be provided, 3) it will be controlled in accordance with Chinese bylaws and regulations.

On May 21, the MHLW again forwarded the following three requests to the Chinese authorities; 1) establish measures for preventing illegal GM rice being exported to Japan, 2) establish measures for preventing Chinese approved GM rice that is not approved in Japan being exported to Japan, 3) provide a progress report on safety assessment of GM rice. Thus far, the Ministry has had no reply from the Chinese authorities.

GM rice planted for line selection in Joetsu City

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, a multi-resistant rice containing an anti-bacterial protein (defensin) from mustard. (See Closeup, July 2005) The second transplanting of seedlings took place at the Center on 29 June 2005.

The first transplanting took place on 31 May 2005, but as this is for checking the disease resistance of the rice, it is due to be mowed before flowering takes place. The plants involved in the second transplanting are for the purpose of harvesting seeds and so will be allowed to flower and form seeds. The transplanting has been delayed about four weeks so as not to coincide with the flowering stage of the commercial Koshihikari rice variety being grown locally. 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.

Application for temporary injunction to suspend GM rice trial

On 24 June 2005, an application for a temporary injunction order to suspend transplanting of a GM multi-resistant rice variety being developed at the Hokuriku Research Center (Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture) was applied for at the Takada Branch of the Niigata District Court by a group of twelve citizens, including a farmer from Joetsu City and members of a Niigata co-operative who purchase locally grown rice.

The grounds of the application were, in addition to the danger of GM technology, that the necessary conditions for the justification of open-field trial cultivation had not been met. The injunction order demands the suspension of the transplantation of the GM rice, mowing of the rice that has already been transplanted, and suspension of the test sprays of rice blast and white leaf blight bacteria. When the first examination of the case was to take place on 28 June 2005, heavy rain prevented trains from moving, making it impossible for the researchers and lawyers to attend. An exchange of faxes was carried out instead.

Cold-resistant GM rice to be tested in Hokkaido in 2007

The National Agricultural Research Center for Hokkaido Region (NARCH, Sapporo City, Hokkaido, under the independent administrative entity National Agriculture and Bio-oriented Research Organization [NARO]) has announced that open-field trials of a cold-resistant GM rice, with an inserted gene originating from wheat, will begin in 2007. At the moment hothouse trials are being carried out, and it is intended that a patent be applied for. Hearings for local residents will take place during this fiscal year. If the planned open-field trials go ahead, they will be the first of their kind to do so since the establishment of the GM crop cultivation regulation bylaw in Hokkaido in March 2005 (See BJ May 2005) (Japan Agricultural Newspaper, 2005/06/09)

NIAS transplants cedar pollen allergenic GM rice

The transplantation of seedlings of the "cedar pollen allergenic rice" (a GM rice designed to be effective against cedar pollen allergy in humans) into an isolated field at NIAS (National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture) took place on 8 June 2005. This cedar pollen allergenic rice is the same one which was supposed to have undergone open-field trials at the JA fields in Hiratsuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture, last year before these were suspended and the project switched to hothouses due to strong opposition from citizens. (See Closeup, BJ May 2005) Until now NIAS has used paddy fields at other research stations, but this year isolated fields have been prepared at NIAS and this will be their first planting.

GM somatic cell clone goat and pig born

The independent administrative entity NIAS (National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture) has succeeded in producing GM clone goat and pigs through cloning techniques coupled with genetic engineering of somatic cells. In both cases genes were introduced into a somatic cell, which was then introduced into an ovum which had had its nucleus removed. Following incubation this was then brought to birth in a surrogate mother.

The gene introduced into the goat produces a protein which raises physiological activity. The protein is retrieved from the milk and is intended for use in pharmaceuticals.

Four pigs have been born, three of them intended for use in organ (e.g. heart) transplantation. When animal organs are transplanted to humans, an acute rejection reaction caused by a protein called a "complement" can occur, but these pigs contain a gene for a "complement control protein" which inhibits the complement protein.

This research is being carried out with the cooperation of the independent administrative entity the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science (NILGS). In the case of the pigs, this is a joint development with Nagoya University Faculty of Medicine and Primetech Corporation. Experiments to use these GM clone animals as parents to produce the next generation are already underway.

Generally, this method is thought to have a higher success rate compared with the genetic engineering method of introducing the gene directly into the fertilized ovum, which is apparently why this method was used this time. However, all the animals which have ever been produced with the somatic cell cloning technique have genetic abnormalities, and cases of normal birth are few. There has so far been no report to the effect that the goat and pigs born this time are genetically normal.

Human clone embryo guidelines: agreement to revise current guidelines

A meeting of the MEXT working group considering the production of clone human embryos, human embryos artificially produced outside the body using cloning techniques, was held on 22 June 2005. (See BJ Nov 2004). Based on the "Final Report on the Human Embryo" finalized by the specialist panel on bioethics of the Cabinet Office Council for Science and Technology in July 2004 (See BJ Sept 2004), it was agreed to revise the two guidelines that MEXT currently applies, the guidelines on human embryos and the guidelines on human ES cells. Although the Final Report limits research to the purposes of finding treatments for incurable diseases, it does give approval for the production of human clone embryos.

On this basis MEXT has set up a working group under the specialist panel on human embryos and human ES cells and has held hearings with researchers and so on. Now we are about to enter into the stage of concrete discussion on the premise of the revision of the guidelines on embryos and the guidelines on human ES cells.

Closeup: Results of a nationwide survey on alien GM canola growing wild in Japan

Citizens in different parts of Japan participated the first nationwide investigation for checking GM canola growing wild. The samples were collected from a total of 1,169 inspection points in 23 prefectures. For the preliminary check, a strip test was used to see if GM proteins existed, and then the PCR method was used to see if DNA from GMO could be detected. In result, 153 samples showed GM protein positive at the preliminary check, and the subsequent PCR check showed that 14 samples were defined as GMO.

Imported GM canola seeds are first kept in storages at different ports, and then transported to oil manufacturers by trucks. GM canola seeds have been spilled at ports and oil factories, as well as during loading and unloading, and also during transportation. The result of the citizen's investigation described the true state of spilled GM canola growing wild. In Fukuoka Prefecture, Nagano Prefecture, Osaka Prefecture and Hyogo Prefecture, GM canola was found growing even in places far removed from transportation routes, such as in residential areas.

It was a June 2004 MAFF report which first brought to light the issue of GM canola growing wild. Then in February 2005, the National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES) published a report entitled "A monitoring survey concerning the environmental impact caused by genetically modified living organisms (canola)". The NIES report also included river bed areas as a target of its investigation, however GM canola plants were not identified except around ports.

Local groups have been checking different areas since then and have confirmed GM canola growing in Yokkaichi port (Mie Prefecture), Nagoya port (Aichi Prefecture), Kobe port (Hyogo Prefecture), Shimizu port (Shizuoka Prefecture) and Hakata port (Fukuoka Prefecture). Expansion of GMO contamination was expected, but the reality was much more than one would imagine since GM canola plants were found growing in places other than the expected ports and transportation routes.

MAFF has already expressed its views on this matter, stating, "in accordance with the "Guidelines for Application of rDNA Organisms in Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, the Food Industry and Other Related Industries", MAFF has assessed the GM canola in question as safe on the assumption that spillage and fortuitous growth might take place. For that reason, the MAFF is of the opinion that even though GM canola plants are found growing, there will be no impact on the safety of food, feed and environment in Japan".

Pollen from canola is easily out-crossed with Brassica family plants, such as Chinese cabbage and daikon radish, therefore the possibility of further contamination does exist. In addition, a survey concerning canola seeds conducted by a group of independent scientists in the US last year showed that among 12 samples, 11 samples contained GM canola varieties.

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)