From Bio Journal - October 2012

Trend: A new gene manipulation technology for detailed control of genes

On 20 August 2012, the research group of Taro Mito of the Socio-Techno Science Research Department of Tokushima Universityfs Graduate School and the research group of Takashi Yamamoto of the Science Research Department of the University of Hiroshimafs Graduate School jointly announced that they had produced an galbino cricketh that had no pigment by using a new gene manipulation technology. Their paper was published in the August issue of Nature Communications. The new gene manipulation technology is known as ggenome editing technology,h and uses an gartificial restriction enzyme.h

Among researchers recently, gene manipulation is being actively carried out using gartificial restriction enzymes.h There are methods known as gZFNh and gTALEN,h both of which use artificially synthesized restriction enzymes (enzymes used for cutting DNA), and are techniques for cutting DNA at specifically targeted locations at will. Moreover, these enzymes are designed to enable the severed location to be freely altered. The albino cricket recently produced had had the gene that produces the black pigment for the cricketfs epidermis severed to prevent the gene from functioning. This halting of a genefs functioning is called gknockouth and has been used to investigate the workings of genes.

Artificial restriction enzymes contain both a part that cuts DNA and also a part that repairs DNA. Because of this, the DNA is repaired after it is cut, but in a certain proportion of cases, as has happened in this instance, the gene is lost. Further, at the time of repair, it is also possible to use a vector to carry a gene to the severed location and insert it there. Thus it has become possible to do what up to now was impossible to do with the existing gene recombination technology -- the literal gene recombination of stopping the function of a gene at a particular location and inserting a new gene. In other words, detailed gene manipulation has become possible. The new technology is thus named ggenome editing technology.h

This means that research methods will now change from the very hit-and-miss recombination techniques, where it was uncertain where a gene would be inserted, to a very detailed genome editing technology.

The researchers who produced the albino cricket appear to believe that because this technology is not a ggene recombination techniqueh it lies outside of the restrictions in the Cartagena laws (laws created to prevent adverse impacts of GMOs on wild flora and fauna). What is more, in the case where the function of a gene is halted, as here, since it will become extremely difficult to discover traces of the manipulation, there is also the risk that thoughtless and insensitive gene manipulation will become commonplace.

Gene manipulated vaccine that lies outside the restrictions of the Cartagena laws to be approved

In the approval process for gene manipulated vaccines for chickens and so on, the Food Safety Commission solicited opinions from the general public (up to August 22) and now the approval is about to take place. This gene manipulated vaccine is a glive chicken colibacillosis vaccineh for infectious diseases suffered by chickens and turkeys and which are caused by E. coli. The disease occurs more often in meat chickens than in egg chickens and is the most common reason for measures such as disposal of diseased chickens to be taken.

E. coli O-78 is the strain most usually implicated in the disease. The vaccine was produced by replacing the E. coli gene (crp gene) with a deletion mutation gene. O-78 is attenuated by the replacement, thus enabling the vaccine effect. Since the replaced deletion mutation gene originates from the E. coli J-29 strain, everything in the vaccine originates from E. coli. Gene manipulation in which only genes from the same species are used in this way is called "self-cloning".

Since the same species is used, the technique is not considered to be gene recombination, and MHLW therefore considers it not covered by the Cartagena laws. In the same way, natural occurrence, where genes from different species are used, but where there are cases in nature in which the gene exchange takes place, is also considered to be outside the scope of the Cartagena laws.

GMO crop approvals for June 2012

Table 1. GM crops approved for open field cultivation (Type 1 usage)
(Biodiversity Impact Assessment Investigative Commission)
NameApproval Date*
SoyGlyphosate and isoxaflutole herbicide toleranceBayer CropScienceFG72, OECD UI: MST-FG072-329 June 2012
SoyGlyphosinate herbicide toleranceBayer CropScienceA5547-127, OECD UI: ACS-GM006-429 June 2012
SoyDicamba herbicide toleranceMonsanto JapanMON87708, OECD UI: MON-87708-929 June 2012
* Technically, approval is granted after public comments have been accepted.

Closeup: Issues of MOP 6

The Eleventh Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity (COP 11) and the Sixth Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (MOP 6) will be held in Hyderabad, India, from 1 October 2012. The following three issues are likely to be the focus of MOP 6.

Issue 1. Consideration for the socioeconomic impact of GMOs

Especially at issue will be how gimpacts on indigenous peoples and local societiesh can be mitigated. Included in this issue is the impact of GM crops on the agriculture of developing countries. The discussion thus far has taken up the delay in countermeasures for importing countries, which are mainly developing countries, and one of the issues has been the establishment of a specialist group to resolve the issue. However, due to opinions opposing the establishment itself of the specialist group, the discussion has been unable to progress. Funding to establish the group has also been a problem. The developing countries are still attempting to extract finds from the developed countries, but the developed countries are not now in a situation where they are easily able to provide the funds.

Issue 2: GMO handling, transport, packaging, and labelling

gLabellingh here does not refer to labelling of the food products, but to the contents of shipments. An accident that occurred during the transportation of GM canola in Australia resulted in large-scale contamination. The spread of GM canola volunteers and contamination is also occurring in Japan. To prevent this kind of thing from occurring, management during transport to prevent GMO materials from spilling over from trucks is an important issue. It will be interesting to see how far the discussion will develop and what effective measures will result on this issue from MOP 6.

Issue 3: Evaluation and management of risks from new GM technology, organisms and so on

A specialist group on this issue was established at MOP 4, held in Bonn in 2008. However, with some countries opposed to the establishment itself of the group, it can be said that progress in the work of the group has not been smooth. At present, in addition to the process of risk evaluation, the evaluation of GM mosquitoes, stack varieties (varieties that have several GM traits such as herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, and so on), drought resistant varieties, and GM trees have also come up for discussion.

Further, new technologies that are not covered by the Cartagena Protocol, such as self-cloning, natural occurrence, genome editing using artificial restriction enzymes, have been developed and it is thought that there will be discussion on how to respond to these. It remains to be seen what the results of discussions on these will be.

All of these are important issues, but because of this they are all themes that have been on the receiving end of counterattacks from the United States and other exporters of GM crops as well as multinational corporations.

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