From Bio Journal - August 2008

Joint committee on human embryo approves sperm donor volunteers

The MEXT-MHLW joint specialist committee currently engaged in formulating guidelines for the research production and use of the human embryo has reached an agreement on the method of obtaining sperm, and have decided to approve gratis donation from volunteers. Concerning the method of obtaining fertilized ova (see BJ July 2008), because it places a heavier physical burden on the donor when compared with sperm donation, gratis donation from volunteers will not be approved for the time being. In contrast to the donation of ova, since there is almost no risk to the donor in the donation of sperm, there was no dissenting opinion, the matter being quickly decided, with opinions such as, "The researcher himself could provide the sperm," being offered.

Opinions in favour of approval of the gratis donation of ova from volunteers are still deep rooted, however, and discussions became entangled when it was suggested that they go one step further and approve remunerated donation of ova. In the end, it was decided not to approve the donation of ova "for the time being" due to a sense of objection to this in the ethical outlook of current Japanese society.

Gene therapy: two new applications

It has been reported that at a meeting of the science and technology subcommittee of the Health Science Council of MHLW held on 7 July 2008 two new applications for gene therapy clinical implementation programs were submitted by the National Cancer Center and Mie University Hospital. Both programs plan to use retrovirus vectors (gene carriers), the patients being treated being those suffering from malignant tumors of the hematopoietic organs such as leukaemia and so on in the former, and cancer of the esophagus in the latter. Both applications will now go to be sent to the gene therapy for cancer working group for screening.

In addition, the report on the alteration of the proposal for the gene therapy of Parkinson's disease being carried out at the Jichi Medical University Hospital, and the "Report on the Serious State of Treatment", submitted by Kitazato University Hospital, which is currently implementing gene therapy for cancer of the prostate gland, were both made public. It is stated that in July 2007, due to the occurrence of venous brain hemorrhaging (See BJ Closeup December 2007) during gene therapy for Parkinson's disease at Jichi Medical University, the administering of a large dose (600 µl) of the vector originally planned was suspended and all six patients were put on a low dose rate (200 µl). At Kitazato University, one patient died as a result of bilateral pulmonary arterial thrombus embolism. The report denies any causal association with the gene therapy, but it would rather seem to further back up the dark side of gene therapy as live human experiments on terminal patients for the sake of confirming the safety of vectors (see BJ May 2008).

GM crop approvals for July 2008

GM crops approved for open field cultivation (Type 1 usage)
(Biodiversity Impact Assessment Investigative Commission)
NameApproval Date*
SoyHigh oil contentMonsanto Japan Ltd.MON87754, OECD UI: MON-87754-103 July 2008
MaizeResistance to two orders of insect pests + herbicide toleranceMonsanto Japan Ltd.MON89034 x MON88017, OECD UI: MON-89034-3 x MON-88017303 July 2008
MaizeInsect pest resistance + herbicide toleranceMonsanto Japan Ltd.MON89034 x NK603, OECD UI: MON-89034-3 x MON-00603-603 July 2008
CottonInsect pest resistanceSyngenta Seeds Ltd.MON87769, OECD UI: MON-87769-703 July 2008
* Technically, approval is granted after public comments have been accepted.

Closeup: Spilled GM canola spreading further
On 12 July 2008, the NO! GMO Campaign organized the 4th debriefing session concerning the survey of spilled GM canola in Nagoya. This year's citizens' survey was conducted from February, and the investigation spots were narrowed down on the grounds of the past three years' experiences. The total number of samples was decreased to 1061, compared to last year's 1620. The investigated prefectures were 29, compared to last year's 43. However, the result showed that 38 samples were GMO positive, compared to last year's 37.

Since last year (see BJ June 2007 for last year's results), the participants became more adept at using the test kit, and thus the degree of precision was improved. The results were therefore based on the protein test, and only in a few cases were the samples double-checked by using the PCR method, the same results being obtained.

As in previous years, many co-op members participated in the survey and the samples were collected not only around ports where canola (oilseed rape) is imported, around factories where canola oil is extracted, and along canola transportation routes, but also in some urban areas and on farmland. The important features of the 2008 survey were that GM positive canola was found growing not only around ports, but also some urban areas such as in Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture, where the possibility of canola being spilled is low. In Oita Prefecture, a GMO-positive sample was found in the same spot as two years ago. It is worthy of attention that some GMO positive samples were found in Yamaguchi Prefecture for the first time. In addition, two GMO-positive samples were found in Niigata Prefecture, however since the samples were disposed of before the PCR test could not be carried out, they were therefore not included in the final results.

In Kamisu City, Ibaraki Prefecture, a GMO canola sample tolerant to both Roundup and Basta was found. It is not the first time that such samples have been found, but there is no way of finding out how or where the contamination occurred. It is possible that similar GMO canola plants will continue to be found in the coming years.

2008 Survey of GM Rapeseed Volunteers from Seed Spillage
Survey SiteSample No.Positive samples
Other (20 areas)594000
RR=Roundup tolerant rapeseed, LL=Basta tolerant rapeseed

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