Leading Japanese researchers have raised doubts about the management of the country's genome research. The warning has come despite the celebratory mood surrounding last week's announcement of the sequence of chromosome 22, in which researchers at Keio University School of Medicine played a key role (see Nature 402, 447; 1999),
Speaking at a press conference in Tokyo to announce the achievement, Nobuyoshi Shimizu, Japanese partner of the chromosome 22 team, said that the government is concentrating too heavily on post-sequencing research, at the expense of genome sequencing itself.
Shimizu, professor of molecular biology at Keio, says the government is “attempting to skip sequencing” to focus on functional genomics. The shift to post-sequencing research, including the analysis of single-nucleotide polymorphisms and full-length complementary DNA, reflects Japan's concern over its limited sequencing capacity (see Nature 399, 96; 1999).
While acknowledging the significance of such research, Shimizu stresses the importance of support for sequencing the human genome. “Given Japan's limited sequencing capacity, there is a feeling within the government that further investment [in sequencing research] would not be worth the effort,” he says.
Kenichi Matsubara, deputy director of the International Institute for Advanced Sciences and a pioneer of Japan's human genome project, blames the country's poor track record in genome sequencing on inefficiencies in the government funding system and its failure to promote genome research in a coordinated way.
According to Matsubara, the current system, under which different ministries carry out individual genome projects, has wasted money and made the allocation of funding unclear. “By the time the money is split among five different ministries, there seems to be very little left for actual research,” he said at last week's press conference.
Despite the launch of a genome-research centre at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) last year, Shimizu says this has caused the allocation of funding to become biased. Although RIKEN and Keio University are sequencing 20 per cent of chromosome 21, “the money has all gone to RIKEN, and we have to make do with just seven sequencers and no funding increase,” he says.