From Bio Journal - October 2020

Potential consequences of import of US GM potatoes for potato chips

Promotion of trade based on the Japan-USA free trade agreement (FTA) began in 2020. In February, the previously strictly limited import of raw potatoes, was partially relaxed, and consultations were initiated aimed at a total lifting of import restrictions. This time, only potatoes for potato chip (crisps) manufacture were recognized, but if things continue to go the same way, total deregulation is sure to take place. If that happens, it is possible that a flood of potatoes from the USA is going to appear in the supermarket vegetable section.

In June, along with the relaxation of raw potato imports, bactericidal agents that are applied to the surface of potatoes at the time of export was newly approved. While it is currently limited to potatoes for potato chips, potatoes doused with agrichemicals are already being imported into Japan. The reason why the import of raw potatoes from the USA had not been recognized was to prevent the influx of nematodes into Japan. The chemicals whose use has been newly approved are all bactericidal agents, one of which is fludioxonil, already approved for use with citrus and other produce, and whose use is now being expanded to potatoes. Another is difenoconazole, which is for use with potatoes only.

In addition, the possibility that the USA firm J.R. Simplot's GM potatoes will be imported in the raw form has also arisen. This GM potato uses the distinctive RNA interference method to destroy the function of genes. The cultivation of this potato is being pushed forward in the USA, and the Japanese Food Safety Commission has assessed it as safe, while the MHLW has approved it for distribution as human food on 20 July 2017.

Tokyo Institute of Technology launches synthetic biology project

On 1 September 2020, Tokyo Institute of Technology announced the launch of a "Bacteria Genome Architecture Project" (BGAP) to produce an artificial microorganism genome. Assistant Professor Yasunori Aizawa and his research team at the Tokyo Institute of Technology School of Life Science and Technology, Department of Life Science and Technology, are proceeding with the research jointly with the venture company Logomix, established by Tokyo Institute of Technology. The research team will start by attempting to compile a synthetic genome of E. coli. (Nikkei Biotech 2020/9/15)

MAFF reports results of GM rapeseed, GM soy wild volunteer survey

On 7 September 2020, MAFF announced the outcome of the "FY2018 GM Plant Situation Survey." Since FY2006, MAFF has GM crop wild volunteers in the surroundings of ports of import. For rapeseed varieties, the seven ports (17 ports in the previous year) of Tomakomai, Kashima, Chiba, Nagoya, Yokkaichi, Kobe and Hakata, and for soy, the two ports (10 ports in the previous year) of Kashima and Hakata surveys were implemented in areas up to 5 km from the point of unloading.

GM rapeseed volunteers were discovered at all ports, five samples taken at Tomakomai all turned out to be GM rapeseed. Many samples were collected at Yokkaichi and Hakata, the positive detection rate also being high. Of 59 samples taken at Yokkaichi, 46 samples tested positive, as were 76 samples out of 97 taken at Hakata, the positive detection rate being 78% in both cases. In addition, when 165 individual seeds of Brassica napus were tested, 20 were discovered to have resistance to both glyphosate and glufosinate. No GM soy volunteers were found at Kashima Port, but three soy samples taken at Hakata all turned out to be GM soy.

GM fragrance now available for use

It has now become possible to use the fragrance Valensen in Japan. This fragrance uses 13 types of genes originating in three types of living organisms. Consisting of grapefruit aroma components, the fragrance is expected to find applications in products such as fruit drinks and chewing gums. A company based in the Netherlands originally developed the fragrance, but was later acquired by BASF, which is now commercializing the product.

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