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  • Writer's pictureHirokazu Kobayashi

Pros and cons of non-edible genetically modified plants? *

Updated: May 21

Hirokazu Kobayashi

CEO, Green Insight Japan, Inc.

Professor Emeritus and Visiting Professor, University of Shizuoka


There has been a recent buzz about the movie "Oppenheimer." Robert Oppenheimer was the first director of Los Alamos National Laboratory during World War II, led the Manhattan Project, and played a leading role in the development of the atomic bomb. The development of science and technology has contributed to the prosperity of humanity, and the atomic bomb was born from nuclear physics. Reflecting on this, researchers in related fields imposed restrictions on genetic engineering technology. This was the "Asilomar Conference" held in Asilomar, California, in 1975. In 1994, the first genetically modified crop, the long-lasting tomato "Flavr Savr," was introduced in the United States. Genetically modified crops began to be imported into Japan in 1996, but in Japan, they are mainly used for edible oil or livestock feed rather than being eaten raw by humans. Almost 30 years have passed since then, but there is no evidence that it can be concluded that genetic modification caused human damage. For example, potato sprouts contain a toxin called solanine, and such damage must be distinguished from that caused by genetic modification.

There was a personal assumption that Catholics dislike artificial genetic modification. However, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, representing the world's 1.4 billion Catholics, recommended genetically modified crops for food supply in 2009. Similar intentions can also be seen in the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) adopted at the United Nations Summit 2015. In 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture acknowledged that genetically modified grass is not subject to genetic modification regulations. Plants not used for food pose no danger as they are not ingested, but there are concerns from the perspective of preserving the ecosystem. Even if a drug-resistant gene introduced through genetic recombination is dispersed through pollen, self-fertilization is the main event in the case of cultivated grasses, and even in the case of outcrossing, only grasses of the same species will be fertilized. In other words, it does not casually encroach on the natural ecosystem.

Water is an essential factor for plant growth. Still, in soils where salt has accumulated, the osmotic pressure outside the plant roots increases, making it difficult for the plant to absorb water. However, through our research on the model plant Arabidopsis, we have discovered salt-tolerant genes that enable plants to acquire tolerance to water deficiency. This means that these genes can be used as drought-tolerance genes. If a drought-resistant gene is introduced into grass and is no longer subject to genetic modification regulations, it can be used in various ways. For instance, using drought-resistant grass can reduce the amount of watering required. Additionally, if used as rooftop grass, soil water retention can be reduced, thereby reducing the load on the rooftop. Another advantage of using drought-resistant grass is that it can reduce the amount of watering required when transplanting to a road slope.

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