From Bio Journal - September 2008

Contract research ends for cedar pollen allergy alleviating GM rice

The R&D for a cedar pollen allergy alleviating GM rice (see BJ July 2008) has ended with still no prospect in sight for practical use. MAFF delegated contract research to NIAS and others and invested national budget for "R&D into the practical use and commercialisation of second generation GM crops." From the beginning of this fiscal year, NIAS is leading the research and commissioning animal testing out to private companies. Future moves of the Nippon Paper Group, Inc., also involved in the contract research together with NIAS, will be watched carefully.

Many positive opinions on the production of reproductive cells from "pluripotent cells"

A meeting of the MEXT working group considering the pros and cons of the production of reproductive cells from "pluripotent cells" such as human iPS cells (see BJ July 2008) was held on 29 July 2008. At the meeting, hearings were conducted with Professor ISHIHARA Osamu of Saitama Medical University, Group Director NISHIKAWA Shin'ichi of Riken, and Professor NAKAUCHI Hiromitsu of the Tokyo University Institute of Medical Science. All three are current researchers, Prof. Ishihara researching infertility treatments and Mr Nishikawa and Prof. Nakauchi doing research on stem cells. Although there was some difference in the conditions to be applied and so on, the main position of the three researchers concerning the production of reproductive cells from human iPS cells was that it is medically useful and should be approved. In the discussion following the hearings, the position of those supporting a lifting of the ban on the production of reproductive cells was reinforced, and the proceedings tilted towards approval of the production of sperm and ova. A decision was held over to the next meeting due to lack of time, but it is thought that the focus of future meetings will be on whether or not to allow fertilization using the reproductive cells produced.

Two proposals for the use of ES cells from Tottori University approved

At a meeting of the MEXT specialist committee held on 29 July 2008, two new proposals for research programs using ES stem cells (see BJ September 2007) submitted by Tottori University were approved. A 'research programs using ES stem cells' means research that uses human ES stem cells that have been produced previously, usually elsewhere. The Tottori University programs will allow human ES cells supplied by Kyoto University to differentiate and the two programs will attempt to produce heart cells and liver cells, respectively, for use in transplantation. Thus far, 53 'research programs using ES stem cells' have been approved, and the two new Tottori University approvals bring this total to 55.

Closeup: Cabinet Office publishes results of a GM technology awareness survey

For the promotion of GMOs

The Cabinet Office published the results of a GM technology awareness survey on 24 July 2008. The main subjects consisted of four groups, junior high school and high school teachers (8,000 chosen at random, from whom 4,080 replies were received), 800 university teaching staff (244 replies), 282 local government staff (197 replies), and 110 mass-communication-related people (36 replies).

It appears that the objective of the survey was to discover what kind of information dissemination would help to promote GMOs. Especially conspicuous was the survey of schoolteachers, not only in the numbers of questionnaires that were handed out to teachers, but in the overwhelming number of survey items on the questionnaire, indicating that the government believes that school education holds the key to the promotion of GMOs. For the other three groups, the number of questionnaires sent out and the number of relevant items on the questionnaire were far fewer. The survey was carried out from January to March 2008.

Biology teachers are neutral; domestic science teachers are cautious or negative

An outline assessment of the of the survey results is as follows:

75% of schoolteachers had mentioned the themes of "genes", "genetic recombination", or "genetically modified food" during classes.

With respect to the image associated with "genetically modified food and crops", few schoolteachers felt that they were safe, and among high school biology teachers only 40% replied that GM food and crops were safe.

Regarding GMOs, many junior high school science teachers and high school biology teachers were neutral, while about half of the junior high school technical and domestic science teachers and high school domestic science and social sciences teachers were cautious or negative.

Many of the schoolteachers felt that the grounds for safety assessments of GMOs were hard to understand, that there was not sufficient time to teach about GMOs, and that there was insufficient information available about GMOs.

Local government staff: Food safety and hygiene staff "safe", consumer affairs staff "dangerous"

Concerning local government staff, the following assessment was given:

Regarding the image associated with the term "GM food and crops", food safety and hygiene staff replied that they felt "on balance, safe", while those concerned with consumer affairs and daily living replied that they felt "on balance, dangerous".

In summary, it was considered that in future "high school students" would be the main focus, and that the provision of information to high school education was necessary.

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