Japan’s 3 genome-edited food products now in Japanese market

January 22, 2022 by No Comments


Japan is one of the world’s biggest consumers of aquatic food products. The Japanese people love eating fish.

A study conducted by the American College of Cardiology reveals that on average, Japanese people eat about 3 ounces of fish daily. Japan’s local cuisine is rich in fish and seafood, which are the main protein source of its people’s low-fat and high-nutrient diet.

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Fugu, more popularly known as globefish or pufferfish, are luxury food in Japan. The genomeedited
fugu grows faster than conventional fish and weighs 1.9 times heavier.

In recent years, Japan’s aquaculture industry faced several challenges, including overcrowded farming, red tide and diseases with significant damages.

Declining prices due to overproduction and imports al so affected Japan’s fish consumption, prompting fishermen and the government to create new seafood products using advanced scientific tools, such as clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) gene-editing technology.

CRISPR is a tool used to edit genomes, allowing researchers and scientists to easily alter DNA sequences to modify gene function. The CRISPR system has many potential applications in agriculture, pharmaceuticals and medicine.

Japan develops, approves genome-edited fishes for commercial sale

In October and November 2021, two genome-edited fishes were approved for commercial sale in Japan.

Aiming to revitalize Japanese aquaculture, Kyoto-based start-up Regional Fish Co. Ltd. started selling genome-edited “Madai” red sea bream and “22-seiki fugu” tiger puffer.

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Sanatech Seed’s genome-edited tomatoes have increased GABA content believed to aid relaxation and help lower blood pressure.

Both fishes were genome-edited to grow bigger than their conventional counterparts.

In the notification procedure submitted to Japanese ministries, Regional Fish noted that genome editing is not a genetic modification but a change that can occur in the natural world, and its safety as a food product is comparable to that of conventional foods.

It has been confirmed that it does not adversely affect biodiversity. Earlier in September, a genome-edited tomato with increased gamma-aminobutyric acid (Gaba) content was also approved for commercial sale.

‘Madai’ red sea bream

Red sea bream is a prized fish in Japan. It is considered the “king of fish’ in the country because of its elegant appearance, color, and superior taste.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the production of red sea bream accounts for 10 percent of the total value of aquaculture in Japan.

It is produced using cage culture and is commonly cultivated around Kyushu Island and in the Seto Inland Sea.

Regional Fish Co. Ltd. developed the genome-edited “Madai” red sea bream—together with the Kyoto University and Kinki University, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The genome-edited fish was developed using CRISPR gene editing technology to knock out a protein (myostatin) that suppresses muscle growth.

The red sea bream lacking the myostatin gene has an edible part 1.2 times to 1.6 times than the conventional fish, with an improved feed utilization efficiency by about 14 percent.

Scientific experts confirmed the safety of the fish—which is the world’s first genome-edited animal food to be launched through national procedures.

In October 2021, Regional Fish start accepting reservations for 190 meals of “Eatable Red Sea Bream” after providing information on genome editing technology and production methods in a crowdfunding campaign called “Campfire.”

‘22-seiki fugu’ tiger puffer

Puffers of the genus Fugu, more popularly known as globefish or blow fish, are considered luxury food in Japan despite some species being extremely toxic.

Regional Fish Co. Ltd., together with the Kyoto University and Kindai University, developed a genome-edited tiger puffer fish using CRISPR.

The popular puffer fish known as “torafugu” was edited to increase the speed of growth.

Out of the torafugu’s 400 million genes, the scientists removed four leptin receptor genes that control appetite, boosting their appetite and weight gain.

The genome-edited puffer fish grows faster and are 1.9 times heavier than the conventional puffers in the same farming period.

This will allow production and shipping in shorter periods than conventional tiger puffers which require more than two years to grow.

After the trial sales in late November 2021, the torafugu, named “22-seiki fugu” received favorable comments. One person who tasted it said the fish had a “nice texture.”

After selling 290 packages of the genome-edited torafugu in the trial, Regional Fish has put as many as 2,000 packages per month up for online sales.

Genome-edited tomato to lower blood pressure, aid relaxation

Earlier in September 2021, Sanatech Seed, a Japanese company founded with the goal of using the latest innovative technology to improve crops and protect tomorrow’s children and planet, announced the commercial sales of “Sicilian Rouge High Gaba,” the genome-edited tomatoes with increased gamma-aminobutyric acid (Gaba).

The Sicilian Rouge High Gaba tomato was developed using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology.

The genome-edited tomato contains high levels of Gaba, an amino acid believed to aid relaxation and help lower blood pressure.

According to Shimpei Takeshita, president of Sanatech Seed and Chief Innovation Officer of Pioneer EcoScience, the exclusive distributor of the genome-edited tomato, it contains four to five times more Gaba than a regular tomato.

Sanatech Seed received a parental line of the Sicilian Rouge variety from Pioneer EcoScience, and developed the F1 variety Sicilian Rouge High Gaba with enhanced Gaba content through gene editing.

Developed in collaboration with the University of Tsukuba, the genome-edited high-Gaba tomato was launched in seedling gardening kits in May 2021 and was received positively by home gardeners.

The overwhelming response and strong interest from this group prompted commercial sales in September 2021. A puree product made of the same tomato will also be available at a later date.

New products to set acceptance of future genome-edited food products

In Japan, genetically modified foods must undergo safety screening. This is not the case with genome-edited products.

While gene editing is a fully-debated issue in some countries, Japan has fully embraced the technology with three new food products being sold in the Japanese market.

These approvals will also pave the way for the acceptance of future products that Japanese scientists are currently working on—including gene-edited potatoes, rice and chicken.

Clement Dionglay is with International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications Southeast Asia Center’s Global Knowledge on Crop Biotechnology.

Image credits: Dr. Masato Kinoshita, Kyoto University, and Dr. Keitaro Kato, Kindai University., Regional Fish Co. Ltd

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