From Bio Journal - April 2023

Distribution of genome-edited maize becomes possible in Japan

The March 20 notification for the genome-edited maize developed by the multinational corporation Corteva Agriscience was accepted by the Japanese MAFF and MHLW, making it possible to distribute the maize as both animal feed and food for human consumption. Corteva is a mammoth multinational agribusiness corporation formed by the merger of the agribusiness divisions of DuPont and Dow Chemicals. This genome-edited maize has increased glutinosity due to the destruction of a waxy gene. A variety of maize, known as waxy corn, with glutinosity produced through crossbreeding, already exists, but this genome-edited maize, very similar to waxy corn, has been produced from a conventional variety through the destruction of a gene using genome editing. According to Corteva, waxy corn has a lower yield than conventional maize, but the genome-edited variety has a high yield.

A "low-amylose rice" that suppressed the function of the waxy gene was developed using genetic modification technology in Japan in the 1980s and 90s. Genetic modification enabled the transformation of conventional non-glutinous rice into a sticky rice similar to glutinous rice. Development of this rice was pushed forward as a flavor-improved rice, but since glutinous rice already existed, the variety was never commercialized. The genetic modification technology used in this case was the antisense method. As this method does not destroy the gene, while amylose content is greatly reduced, it is not zero.

Starch consists of amylose and amylopectin; after cooking, when the amylose content is high, there will be clearly separated grains, and when low the grains stick together as a glutinous mass. In the case of rice, the amylose content of Indica rice, such as Thai rice, the amylose content is around 30%, in ordinary (non-glutinous) Japanese rice it is around 20%, and in glutinous rise it is 0%. Low-amylose rice was developed with a view to reducing the proportion of amylose to increase glutinosity.

Corn starch also consists of amylose and amylopectin, in conventional varieties in the ratio of about 25:75. As the maize resulting from the destruction of the waxy gene by genome editing has no amylose, it has strong glutinosity and there are possibilities for its use as edible corn starch and in various kinds of foods. As there is no need for notification when cultivating genome-edited crops in the US, how much is being cultivated where is unknown. Further, since there is no need to label either genome-edited foods or seeds and seedlings, there is no way of distinguishing them from other foods, seeds or seedlings if they appear on the market.

Corteva, along with Bayer, has cornered a large number of genome editing-related patents, it is also becoming a point of contact for the unilateral handling of patent rights. Having seen how multinational corporations have acted thus far, it seems very much as if they are moving toward being winners in the genome-edited crop game.

Sampling party held for cell culture foie gras

A sampling party was held for cell culture foie gras on February 21, 2023. The foie gras was developed by IntegriCulture Inc. and the party was organized by the Japanese Association for Sensory Evaluation to assess the flavor. As the nature of regulations for the marketing of cell-cultured meat have not yet been determined in Japan, this event may have had the intent of accelerating such moves. In the field of substitute foie gras, Dr. Foods is developing a plant-based foie gras produced by fermenting cashew nuts with koji mold (usually Aspergillus oryzae grown on boiled rice, etc.). Competition is now building over the development of foie gras and substitute meats. (Nikkei Biotech 2023/2/22 and others)

Euglena Co. to build large-scale biofuel plant

The venture company launched by Tokyo University, Euglena Co., Ltd., announced on February 17, 2023 that it is to build a large-scale biofuel manufacturing plant in Malaysia. The company says that, jointly with RIKEN (the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research) and its Center for Sustainable Resource Science, and others, has developed a non-motile euglena using genome-editing technology, thereby improving production efficiency. It appears that the biofuel plant will use this euglena. (Nikkei Biotech 2023/2/20 and others)

Former students of Tokyo Institute of Technology sneak GM fish from research lab

On March 8, 2023, MEXT issued a strong warning to the Tokyo Institute of Technology for inappropriate management in allowing, for example, GM Japanese rice fish (Oryzias latipes) to be taken outside the campus. The fish were removed by former students of the research lab that handles GM freshwater fish. As there has been a lack of understanding of the Cartagena Act under the Convention on Biological Diversity, MEXT has demanded throughgoing guidance be implemented at the institute. The Metropolitan Police Department arrested the five suspects and forwarded documentation on the case to the Public Prosecutors Office regarding a further four people. All nine are charged with offences under the Cartagena Act for the raising, transport, selling and disposal in general rivers of the GM Japanese rice fish without permission. This incident marks the first instance of arrests under the Cartagena Act.

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(English Index)