Japan Producing Vaccine for H7N9 Bird Flu

A panel of experts at Japan’s Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry decided Monday to start producing a vaccine for the H7N9 strain of avian influenza following a number of reported cases of human infections in China.

The ministry will make the vaccine based on a vaccine strain produced by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, while seeking cooperation from vaccine makers. Production work will start within this month at the earliest.

The ministry will first use the vaccine for animal tests and then decide whether to conduct clinical trials on humans after examining the results of the animal tests.


Data Glitch Identified in Aborted Epsilon Launch

Japans science minister says botched data transmission has been identified as the cause of the aborted launch earlier this week of the new Epsilon rocket.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency called off Epsilons first launch on Tuesday 19 seconds before liftoff after a sensor detected an irregularity in the rockets posture.

Hakubun Shimomura said on Friday that a ground-based computer had tried to receive data from the rocket 0.07 seconds before the information was actually transmitted.


Japan’s Sakurajima Volcano Explodes in Largest Eruption in Decades

Sakurajima, one of Japan’s most active volcanoes, experienced one of its most powerful eruptions in decades Sunday, sending an ash plume thousands of feet into the air.

The volcano, located in the far southwestern part of Japan’s mainland on the island of Kyushu, began to erupt at 4:31 p.m. local time Sunday (3:31 a.m. EDT U.S. time). The smoke plume eventually reached a height of 5,000 meters (approximately 16,000 feet), according to the Kagoshima Local Meteorological Observatory. Public broadcaster NHK reported it was the volcano’s tallest ash plume since records began in 1955.

Visibility in the city of Kagoshima, where the volcano sits, deteriorated quickly as ash spread into populated portions of the city of 600,000 residents, according to the English-language NHK World website. NHK World said a pyroclastic flow, a fast-moving current of gas and rock, was observed along a one-kilometer (0.6-mile) swath on the southeast flank of the mountain.

Read the rest of the story: Sakurajima Volcano Erupts in Japan: Largest Eruption in Decades Sends Ash Plume Thousands of Feet High.


Higher water temperatures around Okinawa pose risk to corals

High water temperatures around Japan’s southernmost prefecture of Okinawa are damaging coral reefs.

The country’s Meteorological Agency says the average water temperature around Okinawa during the first 10 days of August was 30.3 degrees Celsius.

The figure is one degree higher than the average for that time of year, and close to the record high set in 1998. Relevant record-keeping began in 1985.


Japan health ministry subpanel OKs first iPS cell clinical trial

A subcommittee of the health ministry’s Health Sciences Council approved plans Friday for what would be the world’s first clinical trial using induced pluripotent stem cells.

The health minister is expected shortly to give the final approval for the iPS cell clinical trial on eye disease patients planned by a team from the state-affiliated research institute Riken’s Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe.

The Riken project has already been approved by a screening panel under the subcommittee, as well as by the ethics board of the research institute.

Friday’s meeting of the subcommittee was open to the public. It was the first open screening session for the clinical research application.


Read the rest of the story: Japan health ministry subpanel OKs iPS cell clinical trial.

Woolly mammoth arrives in Japan from Russia

A 39,000-year-old frozen woolly mammoth is unpacked on Tuesday in Yokohama, Japan, where it is to be exhibited. The mammoth, nicknamed Yuka, was discovered three years ago with relatively intact body and fur in Russias Sakha Republic. She is believed to have died when she was 10 years old. Woolly mammoths became extinct around 4,000 years ago

Media companies, the Yomiuri Shimbun, Nippon Television Network Corporation, BS Nittere and a ticketing company, Pia, sponsored the exhibit.

It is the first chance for the public to see a carcass whose body, but more importantly, fur is relatively intact.

‘With this, we can dig deeper into the reasons why extinct species became extinct and apply the lessons learnt to the human race which might be facing its own dangers of extinction. I think it can help us learn to reflect more deeply about our own existence,’ mammoth expert Norihisa Inuzuka told Reuters.

Yuka is missing her organs and debate continues regarding when they were removed and where they are now.

Scientists have put the mammoth at the top of the list of extinct animals to revive and have cloning attempts began in the 90s.

The exhibition lasts from July 13 and wraps up on September 16, 2013.



Japan: Animals may be used to grow human organs

The government’s Council for Science and Technology Policy is likely to permit a study on growing human organs in animals by modifying their embryos, sources have said.

Due to advances in regenerative medicine and taking into consideration the possibility of growing a whole human organs, the council believes such a study to be indispensable for the government. The council plans to make a final decision on the matter in July, according to the sources.

The study aims to grow human organs for transplants. The process would utilize animal embryos shortly after they have been fertilized.

To grow human organs, cells would be injected into an animal embryo that has been genetically modified to ensure it does not have certain organs. This creates an “animal-human chimeric embryo,” which is believed would result in the birth of an animal with a human organ. The animal’s genes are not involved in the resulting organ’s cells.

Read the rest of the story: Animals may be used to grow organs.

Nuclear Regulation Authority officially decides on Japan’s new safety requirements for reactors

The Nuclear Regulation Authority on Wednesday officially decided on Japan’s new safety requirements for reactors aimed at preventing recurrences of disasters like the one at the Fukushima Daiichi complex in 2011.

The new regulations are expected to take effect on July 8, paving the way for nuclear power plant operators to apply for the NRA’s safety assessment as a step toward resuming the operation of their idled reactors.

While calling the regulations a “culmination” of discussions that have taken place since October last year, NRA commissioners acknowledged that the rules’ application is a more important job for them and vowed to make efforts to further improve them.

JAXA’s New SPRINT-A Observation Satellite Launch Set for August

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has unveiled its new planetary observation satellite, which is scheduled to be launched in August, to the press at its Kanagawa Prefecture campus.

The satellite, known as the Spectroscopic Planet Observatory for Recognition of Interaction of Atmosphere (SPRINT-A), is about four meters tall and seven meters wide, and cost about 4.8 billion yen to develop.

The SPRINT-A is designed to orbit Earth at an altitude of about 1,000 kilometers.

TEPCO finds groundwater contaminated with radioactive cesium

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Monday that it has detected radioactive cesium in groundwater samples taken from the premises of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, reversing an earlier announcement that any contamination was negligible.

The announcement came as TEPCO is trying to secure the understanding of local fishermen over the dumping in the Pacific Ocean of groundwater that has been pumped out from wells at the site, saying it has confirmed that concentrations of radioactive substances are sufficiently low.

TEPCO had said radioactive cesium in the groundwater was at a level that could not be detected by an instrument at the Fukushima Daiichi complex. But the same sample was found to contain 0.22 becquerel of cesium-134 and 0.39 becquerel of cesium-137 per liter when checked at the Fukushima Daini plant, where radiation levels are lower.