pp. 237-238 in Bioethics in Asia

Editors: Norio Fujiki and Darryl R. J. Macer, Ph.D.
Eubios Ethics Institute

Copyright 2000, Eubios Ethics Institute All commercial rights reserved. This publication may be reproduced for limited educational or academic use, however please enquire with the author.

6.8. New Genome Programs in Japan

Yoshiyuki Sakaki.

Human Genome Center, Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Tokyo, Japan

Nearly ten years have passed since the human genome project (HGP) has started, and it has made remarkable progress such as construction of genetic and physical maps of the entire human genome and identification of several hundreds of disease genes. HGP recently stated a new, ambitious challenge, that is, the sequencing of the entire human genome, which may allow us to study the human beings more in detail. In parallel with HGP, the genomes of the experimental organisms such as E. coli, S. cerevisiae, D. melanogaster and mouse have been also extensively analyzed and the knowledge from those organisms have helped (and will help) us understand the human genome. Tremendous amount of data and knowledge accumulated through those genome analyses has forced the development of a new field called "Bioinformatics". Indeed, the genome analysis will not develop any more without concerted efforts of biologists and bioinformatists. It should be also noted that HGP as well as the genome projects of other organisms have been (and will be) under the strong demand that the knowledge and techniques obtained from those projects should be applied for practical purposes such as diagnosis, drug development and breeding of agricultural/industrial organisms.

Taking those progress and demand into consideration the Government approved the Basic Plan for Promoting Life Sciences proposed by the Science and Technology Council, in which the importance of the genome analysis is emphasized, and several new programs have started as described below.

Large-scale sequencing facilities

Science and Technology Agency (STA) started a three-year pilot program for a large-scale sequencing of the human genome in 1995, which will be expanded to establish a new large-scale sequencing center at RIKEN. The center will actively participate in the international human genome sequencing project. Human Genome Center at Univ. of Tokyo has established two sequencing-related laboratories which are focusing on disease-gene hunting. Rice Genome Project is also planning to establish a core facility for the sequencing of the entire rice genome on 1998FY.

New Five-year Grant

In 1996FY, Monbusho (The Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture) launched two five-year grants, which support the genome researches mainly in universities. More than 70 laboratories are participating in three categories of genome researches; the human genome analysis, the functional analysis of the model organisms and the bioinformatics.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare also started a new program of medical genomics in which major centers/institutes belonging to the Ministry have been participating. A major focus is complex diseases such as cancer, hypertension diabetes and dementia.

Bioinformatics

Three major genome informatics groups at DDBJ (National Institute of Genetics), Human Genome Center (U-Tokyo) and Chemical Research Institute (Kyoto-U) have succeeded in obtaining super computers for expanding their activities, but the matter to be emphasized is the new "Genome Informatics" program of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). The program intends to stimulate the industrial activities to develop new tools and systems for genome informatics in cooperation with researchers in universities and national institutes.

Government-supported companies

Two genome companies have been established by cooperation of major pharmaceutical companies under the strong support of the Government. Both companies are focusing on the drug development based on the genomics.

ELSI

The Basic Plan for Promoting Life Sciences recommended to established a life science ethics committee under the Science and Technology Council, and such a committee will be organized in 1998FY. The genome program of Monbusho has used one percent of its total budget for ELSI since 1991FY. For these two years, it intended to help the public understand and consider the progress and impact of the HGP, through publications, meetings with journalists, short teaching course for high school teachers and so on. We think that to provide continuously the precise information on our progress to the public is essential for avoiding unnecessary conflict between science/technology and society which often come from misunderstanding or poor communication.


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