AIST Stories No2

15Into the future AIST!at a glanceTerminologyGroup Leader Takeshi Matsumura explains: "Firstly, the range of plants that can be genetically modified is limited. For canine interferon, potatoes actually provide a greater yield than strawberries, but potato sprouts contain toxins; so, an additional process to remove the toxins is required. In addition, strawberries do not need to be heated before consumption, which is advantageous for a substance like interferon that is heat sensitive.The genetic modification itself was not particularly difficult for the expert Matsumura, but there were great difficulties to overcome in developing the plant factory. AIST started on the new development of the plant factory in 2007. In contrast to ordinary plant factories that grow vegetables for consumption, this plant factory was constructed to cultivate a GM plant. Therefore, it had to be a special-purpose space completely sealed so that genetic material would not spread to the outside. It also needed to guarantee reliable production and quality. Developing a factory with these features involved a succession of trials and errors.Matsumura expands: "For example, when the artificial lighting was set up to provide daylight brightness levels, the room temperature rose to 80ºC and the plants withered. Then, when air conditioning was used to suppress this temperature rise, very cold air was being circulated at high speeds, and that too made the plants wither. All kinds of expertise had went into balancing the contradictory requirements."Since completion, the plant factory has provided some surprising discoveries. For example, in an environment without a day–night cycle, the strawberries can be harvested sooner but the plant lifetimes become shorter. It was also found that potatoes can be cultivated hydroponically, which was previously thought to be difficult.Can the ingredients for traditional Chinese medicine be harvested in Japan?This R&D has accomplished more than just the reliable Plant factoryAIST's plant factory is equipped with artificial environment functions, so temperature, humidity, CO2 level, wind speed and airflows in the cultivation room can be precisely controlled as desired, and almost any kind of plant can be grown. It is also equipped with dispersal prevention systems complying with the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The factory is divided into a cultivation area and a production area, so the final product can be manufactured from the plant within the one building.◦‌‌Medicine, welfare, caregiving◦‌‌Medicine, chemistry, biotechnology◦Agriculture and fisheries production of a plant-derived medicine. It will contribute to the development of new forms of industry―the production of raw pharmaceutical materials from GM plants and the production of substances using plant factories. AIST is pushing forward with research into the cultivation of rice, soy, potatoes, tabacco, herbal plants that provide the ingredients of traditional chinese medicine, and so forth, which have as yet published little about the results of hydroponic cultivation in the plant factory.Matsumura says: "Many of these herbs are currently harvested only in certain regions in China and elsewhere, and many of them cannot be artificially grown. Perhaps we can artificially grow them if we can reproduce the conditions of those regions within a factory; we may be able to produce herbs that are many times more medicinally potent. We will work to improve the capabilities of the plant factory. We aim to stimulate the plant biotechnology industry, help people and animals with medical treatments, and contribute to the promotion of local industry near our research base in Hokkaido."Control computerpH control pumpEC control pumpHeating pumpCulture medium tankExtractionSterilizationTemperatureCO2Hydroponic systemGrow lightsTransgenicplantMist sprayersSterilizationAIST research buildingClosed-type plant factoryInside the research buildingHeaterFanKrusell pumpMist sprayersCO2 generatorVentilation ductRefining*1 Gene silencing: When foreign genes are introduced into GM plants, they are often recognized by the plants as being alien to those plants and are prevented from expressing.*2 RNA: Ribonucleic acid, a molecule involved in gene activity.*3 Interferon: Substances that protect the body in many ways: suppressing viruses, preventing cancer, triggering the immune system, and such. They are used in the treatment of patients with viruses such as B-type and C-type hepatitis, and malignant tumors including renal cell carcinoma and leukemia.Thanks to AIST's wide-ranging support, from the initial research phase to actual production, we have managed to achieve a commercial product. Hokusan, AIST and the Kitasato Institute have successfully combined to pursue common goals with great sensitivity to the needs of society and the market. We are looking forward to further cooperative research into practical applications.Partner'sVoice((Noriko Tabayashi, Hokusan Co., Ltd.)(Impact in the following fields! Community lifeIndustry