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  • Writer's pictureHirokazu Kobayashi

What is "genome editing" *

Hirokazu Kobayashi

CEO, Green Insight Japan, Inc.

Professor Emeritus and Visiting Professor, University of Shizuoka

It is generally known that consumers in Japan do not accept genetically modified crops. The safety of genetically modified crops has become a subject of concern probably due to the high levels of anxiety among the Japanese population. However, these crops are scientifically proven safe as they are equivalent to natural agricultural products. The term "genetically modified" is referred to as "gene recombinant" in Japanese, which carries a more significant meaning. As genes hold the blueprint for the human body, it is understandable that people may feel uneasy at the thought of them being altered. Our company's main technology is genome editing, which is an extension of genetic recombination technology. However, the word "genome" sounds slightly eerie in Japanese. It is pronounced in a German way and spelled as a phonogram in Japan. This makes me imagine the similarity to the characters in "Humanoid Monster Bem" of Japanese anime, which first aired in 1968. The technology of genome editing was published by several researchers in 2012, and among them, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna were awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The technology utilizes the foreign enemy defense system of bacteria to cut genetic information DNA at specific positions. This makes it possible to destroy only specific genes in plants and animals. The technology based on this destruction is called "knockout (KO)-type genome editing," which is equivalent to mutations that can occur in nature and are indistinguishable. In 2019, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in Japan made food using this technology possible to be cultivated, farmed, and sold with just a notification.

Our company is currently investigating whether consumers will accept decaffeinated tea and coffee produced using "genome editing." To that end, we outsourced a survey to idx, LLC, and 500 people were surveyed, with a 50% male and female ratio and an even generational ratio between the ages of 20 and 70. About 30% of respondents said they had bought decaf tea. Regarding genome editing tea, 52% of people answered that they would be interested depending on its characteristics. This indicates that the market for decaf tea and coffee produced by KO-type genome editing will likely become larger in Japan.

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