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TITLE:  Total withdrawal of Mitsubishi Chemicals from GM rice development
SOURCE: Citizens' Biotechnology Information Center, Japan, Bio Journal
        http://www5d.biglobe.ne.jp/~cbic/english/2003/journal0307.html
DATE:   July 2003

------------------- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ -------------------


Total withdrawal of Mitsubishi Chemicals from GM rice development

The agribiotech division of Mitsubishi Chemicals, the Plantech Research
Institute, has thus far produced and marketed such rice varieties as
"Yumegogochi" and so on using protoplast culturing technology. However,
Mitsubishi has now totally withdrawn from rice variety development,
transferring its rights to Nakajima Yoshio Trading of Shiga Prefecture.
The company had already suspended development of GM rice varieties due to
lack of acceptance by consumers.

Of the private companies involved in the development of new rice
varieties in Japan, Japan Tobacco Industries and Kirin Beer have already
pulled out, and with the recent withdrawal of Mitsubishi Chemicals, the
sole remaining company is Mitsui Chemicals. Mitsui focuses on the
development and marketing of hybrid varieties and has already suspended
the development of GM rice. Thus, GM rice development in Japan is now
being carried out only by a former research institute of the MAFF (now an
independent body) and Iwate Prefecture (see Close-up in this issue).

*****

Close-up: Current state of GM rice variety development in Japan

Low-temperature resistant rice

On 3 April 2003, MAFF approved external trials and so on for a low-
temperature resistant rice variety developed by the Iwate Biotechnology
Research Center (see Biojournal June 2003). This GM rice variety
(Sasanishiki) contains the glutathione-S-transferase gene, which imparts
multiple functions such as herbicide resistance and cold resistance. The
problem with this rice variety is that it produces enzymes with multiple
functions, and thus contains many uncertain factors. Simply anything
could happen, and it is possible that previously unknown problems will
arise in with this variety in the future.


Rice variety with an incorporated maize gene

On 28 April 2003, MAFF approved external trials for a rice variety
developed by National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences (NIAS) (see
Biojournal June 2003). This rice variety contains a corn (maize) gene (c4
phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase (pepc) gene) in order to stimulate
photosynthesis, control growth and increase the size of the grain. The
variety used was "Kitaake" and the experiments will be carried out at the
National Agricultural Research Center for Hokkaido Region (NARCH) of the
National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO). It is uncertain what
kind of morphological changes will take place in the natural environment.
Because there is a possibility that resistance to acidic soils will be
obtained through the expression of this gene, it is proposed to confirm
this trait through trials. The problem with this rice variety is that it
is being tested in the open despite the fact that no one knows what will
happen.


High-level tryptophan storage rice

One further rice variety approved for external trials by MAFF on 28 April
2003 was the high-level tryptophan storage variety developed by the
National Institute of Crop Science (NICS) of the National Agricultural
Research Organization (NARO). The high-level accumulation of the
essential amino acid tryptophan is achieved by use of a rice gene (rice
anthranilate synthase ?-subunit gene). It will apparently be used for
feed. Normally, the synthesis of tryptophan is blocked by bonding with
anthranilate synthase if the level of tryptophan in the rice increases
above the required level. Tryptophan excess arises when this block is
removed, but other related plant hormones and so on will also be
continually produced as well as the tryptophan. There is a possibility
that phenomena such as rice growth and food safety problems will arise as
chain reactions resulting from this gene manipulation.




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