From Bio Journal - March 2008

Forestry Agency's R&D on GM pollen-less cedar tree

The Forestry Agency Japan has started a project intended to be a countermeasure for the source of pollen allergy from 2008, including an R&D project for controlling pollen by using genetic modification. The agency's FY 2008 budgetary request for the project was 3,173,000,000 yen (approximately US$30,219,050). In order to reduce airborne pollen in the Tokyo area and other areas, the plan is to increase the number of reduced-pollen cedar in the total 15,000,000 seedlings supplied each year from 90,000 in 2005 to 10,000,000 by 2017. The project's focus is to develop a GM pollen-less cedar tree. For the foreseeable future, the plan is to establish a technology to control the genetic function for anthogenesis and pollen formulation by finding sterile male genes. The project has been criticised as getting its priorities wrong. Taking remedial action for air pollution, the cause of the increasing allergy, should be the first priority.

The Forestry Agency's GM tree project in Japanese is here.

'Limited acceptance' of surrogacy - Science Council's Draft Report

The Science Council of Japan's "Committee on the State of Assisted Reproduction Medicine", considering the pros and cons of surrogate motherhood, has said in its draft report that it intends to give "limited acceptance" to surrogacy. (See BJ February 2008) A public symposium was held on 31 January 2008, at which it was strongly insisted that in principle there is a necessity for legislation to ban surrogacy, since there are both ethical and social as well as problems of a biological nature involved. In the draft report, however, it is stated that, "Under the strict supervision of the State... trial surrogate gestation could be implemented in serious cases... and detailed investigations and research carried out under State monitoring," indicating that exceptions may be made.

The committee insists that this is simply a draft report. Currently, the discussion is in a chaotic state, with opposing opinions such as that from Professor YONEMOTO Shohei, University of Tokyo, Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (RCAST) stating that, "I still feel a resistance to the idea of trials. Why should monitoring be carried out? I can't see what the endpoint is." and Professor YOSHIMURA Yasunori of Keio University School of Medicine pointing out that, "The idea of a trial is just wholly inappropriate. I think it is very discourteous to the child who is to be born." The original plan was for the deliberations to be concluded by the end of January, but in the event the report has not been finalized and it has been decided to extend the deliberations until the end of March.

MEXT bans the production of reproductive cells from iPS cells

A meeting of the Bioethics and Biosafety Commission (MEXT, Council for Science and Technology) was held on 1 February 2008, at which it was decided to ban, for the time being, the production of reproductive cells from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), the successful establishment of which was achieved by YAMANAKA Shinya and his research team at Kyoto University in November 2007. (See BJ February 2008) iPS cells have almost the same properties as embryonic stem cells (ES cells), but there are no guidelines controlling their use. Production of reproductive cells from human ES cells is currently banned under existing guidelines.

ES cells are produced through the destruction of an embryo, but human iPS cells, because they can be produced from differentiated somatic cells, have already been tentatively approved for unregulated production for basic research purposes. However, since there are ethical problems involved in the production of sperm and ova inherited by the second generation, the lower specialist panel had been continuing deliberations. Receiving the report from the specialist panel, the Commission formally decided that with respect to iPS cells, the following four acts would be banned, in line with the guidelines on ES cells. 1. The production of reproductive cells, 2. introduction into a human embryo, 3. introduction into a human fetus, 4. the production of a human individual from an embryo made through the use of iPS cells.

Closeup: Is food from cloned livestock safe?

On 15 January 2008, USFDA (Food and Drug Administration) published a report stating that meat and milk, including milk products and so on, from somatic cell cloned livestock are safe for consumption. This amounts essentially to an approval, and thus the day when food derived from somatic cell cloned food will be commercialized is drawing closer.

The report consists of three documents, Risk Assessment, Risk Management Plan, and Guidance for Industry (see report here). Risk Assessment runs to almost 1000 pages, the core of which is to do with safety evaluation. Although it is stated that cattle, pigs and goats are safe, sheep have been omitted from this evaluation due to lack of data. The Department of Agriculture has said that very few cloned livestock are likely to be marketed directly as food, and will be used mostly for breeding, their descendents very likely becoming food. Further, they are calling for voluntary restraint on distribution until food manufacturers and consumers accept the idea of food products from cloned livestock.

The Risk Management Plan is a proposal for regulation, but avoids ethical issues. Guidance for Industry is what the title says, but descendents of cloned livestock are unregulated.

Cloned livestock may be either germline clones or somatic cell clones. The former are thought not to be an issue and food from these clones is distributed in Japan and many other countries. Food from the latter, however, is not being distributed anywhere in the world because somatic cell clones have big problems.

On 31 October 2007, MAFF released its "Current State of Livestock Research" covering the period up to the end of September 2007 (See BJ December 2007). According to the report, of 535 head of somatic cloned cattle born thus far, stillbirth and death immediately after birth, death from sickness and other such abnormal deaths accounted for the majority, 295 head, of these.

Despite this large proportion of abnormal deaths, researchers are still pushing forward with the development of somatic cell cloned animals. There are also companies that wish to produce human food from somatic cell cloned livestock, and in the end, the administration is giving them their backing, not only in the USA, but in Japan also.

In Japan, MAFF and MHLW have already published a report entitled "Somatic Cell Cloned Cattle are Safe". Further, the project "Technical Development and Investigation on Somatic Cell Cloned Cattle for Industrial Use", one of the projects for upgrading agricultural, forest and fisheries' production, is ongoing. This project has a 2008 time limitation and the data gathering is supposed to be completed in FY 2007, and is thus thought to be approaching its conclusion.

If the government wishes to approve somatic cell cloned animal products for human food, it is necessary first to clarify the causes of the current horrific state of somatic cell cloned cattle. Failing this, consumers are not going to be mollified by statements such as 'it's safe to eat abnormal cattle'.

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)