From Bio Journal - December 2006

Results of MAFF inspection of US GM rice

On 30 October 2006, MAFF released its "Final Report on the Results of the Inspection of Contamination by Genetically Engineered Rice in Government Owned Rice Produced in the United States of America". According to the report, all the 151 samples in addition to the 12 samples announced on 2 October had been inspected, and no GM contamination was found. Possible contamination in processed foods and in rice imported through third countries were outside the scope of the inspection.

By-law on GM crop regulation goes to Takahata Town council

A by-law on GM crop regulation banning GM crop cultivation in the town will go before the regular council meeting of Takahata Town, Yamagata Prefecture (northeast Japan) in December 2006. The Organic Farming Promotion Convention of Takahata Town petitioned the council for the by-law in February 2004, and this was approved in March 2004. Since then the town has been drawing up the by-law. Organic farming is one pillar of the town development of Takahata Town, and so this regulatory move can be said to be based on a special regional feature. It appears that MAFF has already attempted to intervene and this case may prove to be a litmus test of how far a local government is able to carry through such a proposal or not.

Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine develops a GM technique using pollen

A research team at Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine has developed a GM technique that uses pollen that could replace the conventional method of introducing genes into a cell and then growing them out in a culture. In the method, the gene to be inserted is fixed to a metal particle, which is shot into the pollen. The pollen is then selected using a magnet and used to fertilize plants. The R and D has been carried out on maize, but a researcher stated that the method is applicable to various crops. (Japan Agricultural Newspaper 2006/10/18)

New Riken project on human ES cells approved

A meeting of the MEXT specialist panel screening human ES clone research on 24 October 2006 approved a new "project to use" human ES cells by the Riken Kobe Institute. "Project to use" refers to a project that will use ES cells that have been previously established. Riken's research project will use human ES cells provided by Kyoto University Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences to produce retina cells.

Opinions from the general public on human clone embryo research announced

The end of August 2006 was the deadline for public comments concerning the "Interim Report on the Production and Use of Human Clone Embryo for Research Purposes", published by the MEXT working group on 20 June 2006. The results were made public at the 22nd meeting of the working group held on 17 October 2006. 25 opinions were submitted, 10 from university-related people, 2 from hospital-related people, 3 from citizens groups, 2 from private companies, one from a religious organization, and 7 from other sources. Although a few of the opinions expressed opposing views, such as requesting a precautionary approach to the method of obtaining unfertilized ova, and concerns over the "resourcification of the human body" (considering the human body as a source of "resources"), the overwhelming majority of the opinions were in favour of the promotion of further research. The panel will now use these opinions for reference as they enter into discussions towards the final phase of formulation of the guidelines. (See previous article BJ October 2006)

Policy to allow genetic modification of embryos for repromed only

The joint MEXT-MHLW working group has reached a general agreement on the policy of allowing the genetic modification of human embryos for the purposes of assisted reproductive medicine (repromed) provided that the embryo is NOT returned to the uterus (See previous article BJ August 2006). Currently, genetic modification of human embryos is banned under the MHLW guidelines for gene therapy for the reason that it could lead to a remaking of the human body. At the meeting of the joint working group on 30 October 2006, the direction indicated was that as far as gene therapy was concerned the ban on genetic modification of human embryos would hold, but that with the sole exception of the development of repromed techniques it could be allowed. The discussions now will focus on exactly how this will be expressed in the guidelines.

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