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The Latest New Business

January 6, 1999

Businesses offering DNA identification services to the general public have been springing up in Japan since 1997. These services, available to anybody who can pay the price, have already elicited a big response from people who harbor doubts about their blood ties with their parents or children. In addition to verifying parent-child relationships, companies selling DNA identification certificates for pet dogs, testing genetically recombined foods, and providing other related services are also on the increase as DNA identification begins to find its niche in the market.

New Businesses Sprout in 1998
DNA carries genetic information. Located in the nucleus of each cell, DNA is shaped like a double helix, made from chemical bases joined together. The pattern in which these bases are arranged differs from person to person. Since children inherit genes from each of their parents, however, examining blood, hair, saliva, or other bodily substances can provide proof of a parent-child relationship. This process is called DNA identification. More accurate than identification by blood type, this technique is said to be able to verify a genetic parent-child relationship with 99% accuracy and to confirm a non-genetic relationship with 100% accuracy.

The United States is the front-runner in commercial DNA identification, with more than 100 companies already offering such services to the public. DNA identification in Japan, on the other hand, has until recently been limited to court requests for assistance from university research facilities, pertaining to lawsuits involving legal confirmation of a parent-child relationship. Starting in 1997, however, a number of companies providing DNA identification services in Japan have opened for business.

Huge Public Response a Sign of the Times?
Public response to DNA identification services in Japan has been enthusiastic. One company that began operations in April 1998 reports that it received 4,500 inquires from across Japan within about six months, 1,000 of which led to actual DNA identification. Why such ready acceptance by the public? The president of another DNA identification business expresses one opinion: "I think it's a matter of lax sexual morals. People's desires run their lives nowadays. Extramarital affairs are commonplace, and the popularity of DNA identification testifies to the suspicion that has engulfed both men and women."

The going price for DNA identification services is about 200,000 yen (1,740 U.S. dollars at 115 yen to the dollar). The procedure is simple and painless: A special sponge is rubbed inside of a cheek of the person in question to collect some saliva. This sponge is then returned to the company, after which the customers need only wait for the results. Many DNA identification businesses in Japan rely on U.S. companies for the testing and analysis of specimens. Some, however, like the giant sake brewery Takara Shuzo Co., employ original biotechnology, performing the identification procedures themselves.

New Entries are Expected
Many other applications for DNA identification are also providing commercial inspiration. These services include testing genetically altered foods, which are the subject of considerable debate regarding their safety, and selling DNA identification documents for dogs, on which their genetic information is provided in bar-code form.

While DNA identification is developing as a fledgling industry, one university professor who is well acquainted with DNA identification warns that "if proper procedures aren't employed and DNA samples are taken without a person's consent, it would constitute a violation of one's human rights." He continues: "Rules of some kind must be created. We need to think seriously about the ethics involved with DNA identification." That is why the Japanese Society of Legal Medicine, which serves as advisor to some of Japan's DNA identification businesses, intends to come up with guidelines concerning the sharing of information obtained through these services, consent for identification procedures, and other aspects of this budding industry.

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Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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