From Bio Journal - May 2023

GM Japanese cedar included in Basic Policy on Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform

After Prime Minister Kishida stated at a meeting of the Upper House Accounts Committee on April 3 that he would establish a council of relevant ministers to advance measures against pollen allergies, the first ministerial meeting was held on the 14th. It was then decided that the government would include a policy on measures to combat pollen allergy in the Basic Policy on Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform to be issued in June. The rough policy outline presented to the cabinet meeting consisted of three pillars: promotion of Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) logging, enhancement of predictions of allergy timing using AI, and the dissemination of medical treatments. Included in medical treatments was the revival of the GM "cedar pollen rice," whose development was abandoned before commercialization.

Development of the cedar pollen rice began in FY2000. Its promise of consumer benefits caused it to emerge as a standard-bearer for next-generation GM crops. A MAFF research institute, the National Institute of Biological Resources (later a research institute of the NARO), Zen-Noh, and Nippon Paper Group, Inc. led the development of the rice, which was originally named "Japanese cedar pollen allergy alleviation rice." The rice grains were engineered using GM technology to alter the structure of allergens that cause the pollen allergy. The idea is based on desensitization therapy, where allergy sufferers would become accustomed to cedar pollen by ingesting the allergen when eating rice every day.

MAFF attempted to develop the GM rice as a health food, but the MHLW put the development on hold in fiscal 2007 by saying that it was a medicine, not a food. However, no pharmaceutical company could be found to participate in the collaboration, and as a result, development was greatly delayed and the name changed to "Japanese cedar pollen allergy treatment rice." After FY2010 MAFF aimed to commercialize the rice as a pharmaceutical product.

Two types of GM rice, firstly a peptide-containing rice and secondly a polypeptide-containing rice, were developed, and clinical trials using the peptide-containing rice were conducted at Jikei University in 2013 to confirm its efficacy as a pharmaceutical product. However, the development stalled again because the results showed that there was little improvement in symptoms. Even so, MAFF has not given up on commercialization, and adopted an open innovation system in 2016 in order to promote its development more widely, renaming the rice "cedar pollen rice." The Kishida administration has pointed to the possible emergence of cooperating pharmaceutical companies as the main issue.

Non-approved GM zucchini distributed on South Korean market for eight years

It was discovered that non-approved GM zucchini has been in circulation in South Korea for eight years. A full survey of zucchini distributed in the country was then conducted, with shipments resuming from those that tested negative in March. This zucchini is a member of the family of pumpkins grown in the United States that were previously treated as a squash in Japan. Seeds apparently entered the country and were cultivated.

The GM zucchini, which had been in development since the 1980s in the United States, was licensed for cultivation in 1994 and hit the market in 2001. It is genetically modified to confer resistance to viral diseases transmitted by aphids. Two lines of zucchini, ZW-20 and CZW-3, were genetically modified and grown on about 3200 ha in 2006.

Zucchini is susceptible to three main aphid borne viral diseases: (1) cucumber mosaic virus disease, (2) zucchini yellow mosaic virus disease and (3) watermelon mosaic virus disease. The CZW-3 line is designed to have resistance to all three, and the ZW-20 is designed to have resistance to (2) and (3). As licensing of the GM zucchini has not been applied for in Japan, if it is in circulation, it will be considered an unauthorized crop and illegally distributed. Since it was circulating in South Korea, it is possible that it is also circulating in Japan.

(Chungang Ilbo Newspaper 2023/4/1)

Ajinomoto establishes mass production system for RNA agrochemicals

With the shift from chemical pesticides to biopesticides accelerating, a research group at Ajinomoto has begun working with pesticide companies to commercialize a system for mass production of RNA agrochemicals. According to the group, the RNA agrochemicals were confirmed to be effective in joint research with the National Institute for Basic Biology.

(Nikkei Biotech Online Version 2023/4/5)

Cultured meat consortium established in the runup to the Osaka Expo

The Graduate School of Engineering at Osaka University is developing cultured meat for the 2025 World Expo in Osaka. To accelerate the development, on March 29 the Graduate School of Engineering formed a consortium with Shimadzu Corporation, Itoham Yonekyu Holdings, Toppan Printing and Sigmaxyz Inc., a consulting company, to commercialize the cultured meat.

(Nikkei Biotech Online Version 2023/3/30)

Kyushu University develops technology to improve efficiency of genome editing

A research team led by Atsushi Suzuki, a professor at the Medical Institute of Bioregulation, Kyushu University, together with a group led by Hiroshi Suzuki, a professor at the Graduate School of Medicine, Nagoya University, have announced the development of a technique to increase the efficiency of genome editing by 100 times. It is said this would also enhance safety. The technology is a guide RNA (safeguard gRNA) that can precisely control the activity of restriction enzymes that splice the genome, which they say can result in a reduction of off-targets and cytotoxicity.

(Kyushu University 2023/4/11)

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