From Bio Journal - December 2021

Argentina approves world's first GM wheat

On October 8, the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) of the Argentine Ministry of Agriculture announced that Argentina had become the first country in the world to approve genetically modified wheat. (See BJ July 2013) The impact of this will be great, since Argentina's wheat production is the fourth largest in the world. The wheat variety, known as HB4, has two properties, drought resistance and herbicide resistance, and was developed jointly by the Argentinean biotech company Bioceres Crop Solutions, CONICET and the National University of the Littoral. The herbicide to be used is glufosinate, and farmers are concerned about the spread of contamination to the environment and the human body. Farmers, environmental organizations and consumersf organizations have also launched a campaign concerning alfajor, Argentina's national confectionery, because Bioceres has made it clear that GM wheat will be used in the alfajor produced by the confectionery maker Havanna.

A prerequisite for growing this GM wheat was approval by neighboring Brazil, since 45% of the wheat produced in Argentina is exported to Brazil. In May this year, Argentina's ambassador to Brazil said that negotiations were under way with Brazil, and that the negotiations were proceeding toward approval. At the same time, cultivation in Argentina was also moving forward. On November 11, Brazil's National Biosafety Technical Committee (CTNBio) approved the import of the wheat. The GM wheat is already being grown on 55,000 hectares of Argentinian agricultural land. (Reuters 2021/11/11, and others)

The development of genome-edited wheat is also progressing globally, and the development of genetically modified crops centering on wheat is expected to continue. One of the first genome-edited wheat varieties to be developed in China is a herbicide-resistant wheat. This variety, developed by Huazhong Agricultural University, is resistant to sulfonylurea, imidazolinone, and allyloxyphenoxy propionic acid herbicides. In China, it is believed that development of the wheat variety was carried out through close ties with the China National Chemical Corp., which has acquired Swiss Syngenta. Another high-yield wheat variety is being developed by Corteva Agriscience. In addition, a high-fiber wheat variety and a wheat variety resistant to powdery mildew are being developed by Calyxt, Inc., an American venture company.

By manipulating a seed dormancy gene, a team of researchers at Okayama University in Japan, has developed a wheat variety that has a longer seed dormancy period and is less likely to germinate even if the seeds become wet in the rain. (See BJ November 2021) Trial cultivation of this wheat variety began at Okayama Universityfs fields in Okayama and Kurashiki in mid-November.

Cultivation tests have also begun at Rothamsted Research in the United Kingdom. This wheat variety is said to contain a smaller amount of asparagine to reduce the amount of acrylamide, which is believed to cause cancer when bread is burned. Thus, we can see that a development battle is now underway with regard to genome-edited wheat.

Nagoya University develops genome-edited high-sugar tomato

Tokai National Higher Education and Research System announced on November 9 that it has produced a high-sugar tomato using genome editing technology. A research team led by Katsuhiro Shiratake, an associate professor at Nagoya University's Graduate School of Bioagricultural Sciences, a part of the Research System, developed the tomato in collaboration with Kobe University, the University of Tsukuba, and RIKEN (the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research). The tomato was created by destroying the invertase inhibitor, a gene involved in sugar translocation from leaves to fruits. The results were published in the November 2, 2021 issue of Scientific Report. As with the high-GABA tomato (See BJ October 2021) developed at the University of Tsukuba, this tomato was developed with the support of a national project initiated in FY2014, the Cabinet Officefs "Next-Generation Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries Creation Technology of the Strategic Innovation Promotion Programh (SIP).

NTT develops genome-edited algae to reduce carbon dioxide

NTT announced on November 12, that it will initiate a demonstration experiment to apply genome editing technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in cooperation with the Regional Fish Company, which has received approval for marketing genome-edited red sea bream and tiger puffer fish. (See BJ September 2021) Focusing on the carbon cycle involving algae that absorb carbon dioxide in the ocean and the fish that feed on the algae, this project will examine whether or not the algae can be applied to the reduction of carbon dioxide.

Development of pollen-free Japanese cedar by genome editing

In addition to agriculture and fisheries, in forestry the development of trees using genome editing technology is also advancing. The Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, FFPRI, has already developed pollen-free cedar using GM technology (see BJ on Japanese cedar pollen allergy at April 2015), and has now been developing pollen-free cedar using genome editing technology. Currently, it has been confirmed that the destroyed gene making the tree pollen free is expressed in male flowers and is believed to be involved in pollen formation. FFPRI used fluorescent genes to confirm the removal of foreign genes and destroyed the chlorophyll genes to whiten the leaves. The results were published in the Science Report (online edition August 10, 2021). The institute is aiming to register the pollen-free cedar tree by 2026.

Development of cultured meat using regenerative medicine technology

Diverse Farm, an Osaka-based venture firm that aims to apply regenerative medicine technology to the development of cultured meat (see BJ November 2021), is attracting attention. The company was established by Tissue By Net, a venture company researching into regenerative medicine, and the head chef and owner of Unkaku, a kaiseki cuisine restaurant in Osaka. Since cells usually spread out on a flat surface when cultured, the creation of three-dimensional structures has been an important issue. Problems also arise with nutrition and taste in simple cell cultures alone. The company aims at seriously chicken-like meat production from chicken cells by controlling the combination of three-dimensional structure and the meat quality, fat content, amino acid composition, and so on. In addition, to create authentic cuisine Tissue By Net teamed up with a kaiseki (a simple meal served before a tea ceremony) cuisine restaurant. The initiative has now reached the semi-finals of the XPRIZE Feed The Next Billion competition, an international competition for cultured meat, and is under development for the competition finals to be held in March 2024.

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