Saturday, August 18, 2007

Genetically altered GloFish create controversy

Fish that glow! They are banned in California, Canada and the European Union, but it seems you can buy them as pets in most of the United States. From Wikipedia:

The GloFish is a trademarked brand of genetically modified (GM) fluorescent zebrafish with bright red, green, and orange fluorescent color. Although not originally developed for the ornamental fish trade, it is the first genetically modified animal to become publicly available as a pet.

Early development

The original zebrafish (zebra danio) from which the GloFish was developed is a native of rivers in India and Bangladesh. It measures four centimetres long and has gold and dark blue stripes, and over 200 million have been sold in the last 50 years in the United States ornamental fish market. Despite the number of zebrafish sold, they have never established any reproducing populations in the United States, primarily because they are tropical fish, unable to survive in the U.S. climate.

In 1999, Dr. Zhiyuan Gong and his colleagues at the National University of Singapore took a gene from a jellyfish that naturally produced a green fluorescent protein and inserted it into the zebrafish genome. This caused the fish to glow brightly under both natural white light and ultraviolet light. Their goal was to develop a fish that could detect pollution by selectively fluorescing in the presence of environmental toxins. The development of the always fluorescing fish was the first step in this process. Shortly thereafter, his team developed a line of red fluorescent zebra fish by adding a gene from a sea coral, and yellow fluorescent zebra fish, by adding a variant of the jellyfish gene. Later, a team of Taiwanese researchers at the National University of Taiwan, headed by Professor Huai-Jen Tsai, succeeded in creating a medaka (rice fish) with a fluorescent green color. [...]

(Bold emphasis mine) I can see why the U.S. allows the zebra GloFish; it can't naturalize here, because the temperatures are too extreme. But I don't know about the Medaka. I believe it's a rice-paddy fish, and since there are parts of the southern U.S. where rice is grown, maybe it could naturalize?

I do know that the next time I'm at the local Walmart Superstore, I'm gonna have a look and see what they've got in the pet section.

Visit the link to Wikipedia for more info on the GloFish and the controversy surrounding it.

Related Link:

Genetically Modified Organisms In the Aquatic Trade?

[...] In Taiwan, fluorescent greenish yellow Medakas (Oryzias latipes) will be ready for their international launch in the aquatic trade. And, in several countries, research continues to find new areas for employing genetical engineering in the production of new fish varieties, often supported by government offices and research institutions.

Efforts do not only focus on improving colour and shape, but also on developing characteristics such as faster growth, resistance to infection and tolerance of lower temperatures. This last point, in particular, would certainly open up the debate on invasiveness and environmental risks. [...]

(bold emphasis mine) I think in one way these fish are really cool. But if they get released into an environment where they could be naturalized, it could get really complicated. The article says the breeders are doing everything they can to make sure the fish can't reproduce. But remember a similar argument in the movie Jurassic Park? Nature found a way to circumvent careful human planning. Fishy, scaly, amphibian type critters have all kinds of ways to insure their survival and reproduce. Genetic engineering sure is going to make the future more complicated.


Anonymous said...

I don't think genetic engineering is going to make the future complicated. There's just going to be more variety in our world. However, genetically modification does contradict some people's beliefs.

Chas said...

If genetically altered strains mix with non-altered strains, they ALL become altered strains; the original strain is lost. And if the alteration causes a weakness down the line, an entire species could be wiped out.

The Law of Unintended Consequences at work...

Sheik said...

Nonsense, there is not any possibility to alter a total original strain, which would take many generations and then after surviving these generation to suddenly die out.
If there is an environmental advantage, then the original strain could extinct, because the altered strain is better.
If there is an environmental disadvantage, then the altered strain would die out, because the original strain is better.
But both at same time is not possible.
Maybe both strains will survive in different environments where their advantages count more, but both extinct is not possible.

And as glowing has no advantage (do you know any?), but the disadvantage to attract the predator, it is clear that the altered strain would die out.

So no increased variety comes into our world, but only into our tanks.