The genome science committee of Japan's Council for Science and Technology is set to call for the open release of human genome data. The council coordinates Japanese research policy and is chaired by the country's prime minister.

The council's forthcoming declaration says that, to assure scientific progress, “all data and results” from human genome research should be made public. This is expected to include complementary DNA and single-nucleotide polymorphisms.

Last month, the director-general of the Science and Technology Agency, Hirofumi Nakasone, called for the creation of international rules on the release of human genome data. But although the declaration will probably cover all publicly funded research, observers in Tokyo point out that Japanese funding agencies do not usually lay down policies for data release.

Earlier this year, the Research Association for Biotechnology, which administers biotechnology research for the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), announced the release of sequence data for 2,200 human genes — but only after the Japanese Patent Agency said that it would not approve patents for sequences that are not complete and whose functions are unknown.

The data have been produced by a MITI-sponsored consortium of private companies, which aims to sequence human full-length complementary DNA.

Patents for the genes are pending. The release of the genes' sequences will prevent overseas companies from filing patents on them, and the period granted for revising the applications will give the companies involved some time to identify gene functions.

A spokesperson for the Research Association for Biotechnology said that although the cDNA consortium is funded entirely by public money, there are no clear rules for the release of data. Results have to be reported to the New Energy Development Organization, a MITI funding body, within 60 days of a project's completion.

Opposition from MITI has made it difficult for Japan to formulate a position on the release of human genome data. Akiyoshi Wada, director of the RIKEN Genomic Science Center, says that he recommends the regular and timely release of data to his staff, but the lack of general rules has made it difficult to draft policies for his institute.