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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  June 2004

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE June 2004

Subject:

Research fuels fear of gene-altered fish

From:

Wren Osborn <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 16 Jun 2004 14:57:43 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (254 lines)

I find the newspaper story headline over the top but share the concerns.

Wren Osborn

Posted below is the Seattle Times article titled "Research fuels fear of
gene-altered fish." The research explains the threat that these
"frankenfish" could
pose to other fish if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves
them
for commercial production.

Also posted below is the scientific abstract about the report from the
web
site of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/texis.cgi/web/vortex/
display?slug=genefish08m&date=20040608&query=%22Research+fuels+fear%22
(need to register to view article)

Research fuels fear of gene-altered fish

By Sandi Doughton
Seattle Times staff reporter

In a head-to-head battle for food, normal coho salmon lose out to their
genetically engineered cousins, says a new study that adds to the
controversy over what critics call "frankenfish."

Not only did the aggressive, gene-modified salmon gobble up most of the
feed
when raised in tanks with ordinary salmon, but they also gobbled up
their
weaker competitors  including their own type, British Columbia
scientists
reported in yesterday's online edition of the Proceedings of the
National
Academy of Sciences.

The results were often dramatic population crashes, with only one or
two of
the genetically modified fish surviving in tanks that originally held 50
animals, said lead author Robert Devlin of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

"When food supplies are low, transgenic (genetically modified) fish
have a
very significant effect on the population," he said, adding the caveat
that
laboratory experiments may not predict what would happen if
bioengineered
salmon escaped into the environment.

But that's a question that needs to be answered soon.

Massachusetts-based Aqua Bounty Farms has asked the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration for approval to market what could be the first transgenic
food fish: Atlantic salmon that grow twice as fast as normal fish. Aqua
Bounty hopes to raise its transgenic salmon in coastal net pens in the
United States and market the eggs around the world, said Joseph
McGonigle,
vice president for external affairs. "We are constantly hearing from
companies that are interested in it," he said.

Faster-growing salmon would cut costs dramatically for fish farmers and
lead
to lower prices in the supermarket, McGonigle said.

Consumer groups, commercial fishermen and some scientists say studies
such
as Devlin's show the potential ecological consequences of unleashing
man-made breeds of fish.

"We should not be taking a risk like this at a time when native salmon
stocks are already in trouble," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior
scientist
at the Center for Food Safety, a consumer group based in Washington,
D.C.

A 2002 National Academy of Sciences report expressed moderate concern
that
genetically engineered fish might pose risks to consumers if, for
example, a
person who was allergic to scallops ate fish with a scallop gene spliced
into its DNA. But experts agreed that the biggest danger is that some
of the
gene-modified fish would inevitably escape into the environment.

Hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon have escaped into Northwest
waters
from salmon farms over the past several years when floating pens were
ripped
apart by storms or marauding sea lions.

The worst-case scenario involving transgenic fish is the "Trojan gene"
hypothesis proposed by Purdue University geneticist William Muir:
Genetically engineered salmon outcompete normal fish for food and mates,
leading to less-hardy hybrids and the eventual extinction of the entire
wild
population.

McGonigle says the net pens would hold only sterile females,
eliminating the
possibility that escapees could breed in the wild. Several other
studies,
including some in Devlin's lab, have shown that the genetically
engineered
fish aren't likely to survive well outside of captivity because they're
more
susceptible to disease and oblivious to predators.

"We realize we have no chance of getting approval unless we can clearly
demonstrate these fish are completely sterile, and they represent no
genetic
threat and no behavioral threat, in terms of competition for
resources," he
said.

Washington's Fish and Wildlife Commission banned genetically engineered
fish
from marine net pens, but the state has no rules that bar them from
land-based tanks or fresh water, said John Kerwin, who manages the
state's
hatchery program. Oregon has similar restrictions, while California
bans the
creatures entirely  including the fluorescent Glo Fish, a genetically
engineered aquarium fish that went on sale last year.

Devlin's research for the Canadian government is attempting to unravel
the
possible impacts of genetically engineered food fish before they're
approved.

"We're just starting to gather the kinds of laboratory information
which we
hope will provide us with understanding about these animals," he said.

He works with coho salmon that overproduce growth hormone as a result of
genetic tinkering. Aqua Bounty's Atlantic salmon were engineered in a
similar way, using genes from chinook salmon and a species called ocean
pout.

In both cases, the genetically engineered fish grow much faster than
ordinary fish but don't get much bigger at maturity.

At 1 year of age, Devlin's gene-engineered fish are 10 times the size of
ordinary coho.

For the study reported yesterday, Devlin and his colleagues manipulated
the
amount of food available to the fish. When food was abundant, normal and
genetically modified fish coexisted well. It was only when food was
scarce
that competition turned deadly for the normal fish.

While populations made up only of normal fish were able to ride out food
shortages, mixed populations invariably crashed.

But the experiments also revealed another wrinkle: Populations made up
of
only genetically engineered fish also crashed when food supplies were
low.

Does that mean transgenic fish might pose little risk if they escaped
into
the environment because they would die out when food supplies drop?

It's possible, Devlin said.

"If you had a small population, where the fish couldn't migrate out of
the
area, transgenic fish might eat themselves out of house and home and
there
would be no risks," he said.

But on the other hand, if numbers boomed when food was plentiful, the
bioengineered fish could devastate normal fish in the cutthroat
competition
that would ensue.

McGonigle says he hopes to have an FDA ruling within the next two
years, but
the target date has been pushed back repeatedly.

Because of regulations to protect businesses, the agency's evaluation
process is largely secret, leading critics to call for a new system
that is
open and gives more authority to environmental and wildlife agencies.

"FDA has absolutely no experience with these kinds of issues," said
Gurian-Sherman, the Center for Food Safety scientist. "And we know
nothing
about what they're doing."

***************************************************************

Published online before print June 10, 2004
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 10.1073/pnas.0400023101
www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0400023101

Ecology
Population effects of growth hormone transgenic coho salmon depend on
food
availability and genotype by environment interactions

Robert H. Devlin *, Mark D'Andrade, Mitchell Uh, and Carlo A. Biagi
Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 4160 Marine Drive, West Vancouver, BC,
Canada
V7V 1N6

Edited by Wyatt W. Anderson, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, and
approved
May 5, 2004 (received for review January 2, 2004)

Environmental risk assessment of genetically modified organisms requires
determination of their fitness and invasiveness relative to
conspecifics and
other ecosystem members. Cultured growth hormone transgenic coho salmon
(Oncorhynchus kisutch) have enhanced feeding capacity and growth, which
can
result in large enhancements in body size (>7-fold) relative to
nontransgenic salmon, but in nature, the ability to compete for
available
food is a key factor determining survival fitness and invasiveness of a
genotype. When transgenic and nontransgenic salmon were cohabitated and
competed for different levels of food, transgenic salmon consistently
outgrew nontransgenic fish and could affect the growth of nontransgenic
cohorts except when food availability was high. When food abundance was
low,
dominant individuals emerged, invariably transgenic, that directed
strong
agonistic and cannibalistic behavior to cohorts and dominated the
acquisition of limited food resources. When food availability was low,
all
groups containing transgenic salmon experienced population crashes or
complete extinctions, whereas groups containing only nontransgenic
salmon
had good (72.0  4.3% SE) survival, and their population biomass
continued
to increase. Thus, effects of growth hormone transgenic salmon on
experimental populations were primarily mediated by an interaction
between
food availability and population structure. These data, while
indicative of
forces which may act on natural populations, also underscore the
importance
of genotype by environment interactions in influencing risk assessment
data
for genetically modified organisms and suggest that, for species such as
salmon which are derived from large complex ecosystems, considerable
caution
is warranted in applying data from individual studies.

*To whom correspondence should be addressed.
Robert H. Devlin, E-mail: [log in to unmask]

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