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The Genetic Resources Committee and Resource Center Subcommittees

Diverse strains of experimental organisms are indispensable for the research of Life Sciences. In addition, a large number of mutant strains have recently been produced, due to the explosive worldwide development of biological strains, including genome studies and gene function research using these mutant strains. The development and analysis of the expanding variety of living strains, their preservation and distribution and databank systems for the efficient proliferating of information concerning living strains have become extremely important, not only for basic research of Life Sciences but also in the fields of Applied Science such as Medicine and Agriculture.

Under these circumstances, the report on "The Use of Biological and Genetic Resources for Scientific Research" was issued by the Scientific Information and Materials Section of the Science Council (June, 1996). This report defined "biological and genetic resources" to include "living strains for scientific genetic research utilizing wild living organisms that can be subject to scientific research and the cells and DNA of these living organisms".

The report made recommendations primarily for the establishment of databases of information containing the characteristics of these organisms and the development of networks for their wide and effective use.

The first concrete step for the creation of such a system was the implementation of Genetic Resources Centers. A Genetic Resources Center was constructed for each of the major species and the centers were expected to play a leading role in the character development, maintenance and preservation, supply and database creation for each biological strain. For this purpose, subcommittees concerning the relevant biological and genetic resources were organized at each center for the promotion and evaluation of associated operations.
The second step was the establishment of the Genetic Resources Committee as a superstructure of the Genetic Resources Centers and Strain Information Database operations. Their objectives were to comprehensively evaluate and coordinate the procurement and use of biological and genetic resources in Japan from diverse scientific viewpoints and to establish bases for the integrated collection and distribution of information.

Urged by this report, the Resources Centers mentioned below have been established within universities since 1997. The National Institute of Genetics reorganized the Genetic Stock Research Center and founded the Genetic Strains Research Center, serving as a resources center for 3 species, the Genetic Resources Committee and the Center for Genetic Resource Information, which manages the Genetic Resources Strain Information Database.

In a sense, the Genetic Resources Committee is the parliament of the "genetic resources operations" and should, by nature, be placed at the center. Its role may have become slightly unclear as it came to be managed by the National Institute of Genetics. However, as shown in the attached diagram, it does not supervise the National Institute of Genetics but it meant to evaluate and coordinate the entire genetic resources operations (particularly) at universities in Japan.

For this purpose, the Committee is expected not only to be well informed about the present state of all genetic resources operations and to reflect the opinions of the rank and file, but also to formulate future plans, including defining the position of genetic resources operations in Bioscience from a broad perspective.

In view of the above, Directors of Resources Centers of various species (shown in the attached Table 1 ), researchers in the related fields who aspire to develop resources centers in the future and staff members of other ministries in charge of related operations gathered and appointed the Genetic Resource Committee. Also, a Steering Committee was implemented, for the flexible direction and overseeing of the forementioned Committee. The establishment of the Steering Committee required time and labor, as it differed from a conventional committee of a research institute, however it met in June 1999.

A Genetic Resources Committee meeting was held in October the same year, 1999, where the rules were determined and the Genetic Resources Committee was put into action. In the future, the Committee is anticipated to embark on the activities that are its primary purpose, such as evaluating the principles of genetic resources operations and supporting the establishment of new resource centers.

A Genetic Resources Subcommittee is placed in each resources center, which is implemented on a rough revenue set aside by the institution such as the university to which it belongs. Therefore, its management and rules depend on the founding university or the research institute. But the primary duty of the Subcommittee is to exchange information and conduct investigations so that the strain-preserving operations of the relevant species are executed smoothly and efficiently. Thus, the Subcommittee is composed of the Director of the Center and related researchers.

Construction of Database of information concerning the presence and characteristics of the strains is also included in the duties of the Subcommittee and this duty is often carried out in consultation with the Strain Information Database staff of the Center for Genetic Resource Information.
As shown in the attached Table 2 , Resources Centers and Subcommittees for the mouse, rice and Escherichia coli have been established at the Genetic Strains Research Center, National Institute of Genetics. At other universities -

  • barley (Barley Germplasm Center, Okayama University, Research Institute for Bioresources)
  • the Fruit fly (Kyoto Institute of Technology)
  • cells in culture (Tohoku University, Institute of Development, Aging and cancer)
  • silkworm (Kyushu University, Institute of Genetic Resources Center)
research centers have been established. Preparations for the establishment of Resources Centers are, at present, underway concerning wheat and killifish (medaka).

Due to the prolific development of genome studies and research on the diversity and evolution of life, new light is about to be shed on strain-preserving operations. Such operations themselves also need dynamic remodeling to keep abreast with major trends of Bioscience. Activities of the above - mentioned various centers and Committees are expected to accelerate these movements and lead them in a desirable direction.

Center for Genetic Resource Information
National Institute of Genetics

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shigen [at] nig.ac.jp National Institute of Genetics (NIG)