I find the newspaper story headline over the top but share the concerns.
Posted below is the Seattle Times article titled "Research fuels fear of
gene-altered fish." The research explains the threat that these
pose to other fish if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves
for commercial production.
Also posted below is the scientific abstract about the report from the
site of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
(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
when raised in tanks with ordinary salmon, but they also gobbled up
weaker competitors — including their own type, British Columbia
reported in yesterday's online edition of the Proceedings of the
Academy of Sciences.
The results were often dramatic population crashes, with only one or
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
very significant effect on the population," he said, adding the caveat
laboratory experiments may not predict what would happen if
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
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
to lower prices in the supermarket, McGonigle said.
Consumer groups, commercial fishermen and some scientists say studies
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
at the Center for Food Safety, a consumer group based in Washington,
A 2002 National Academy of Sciences report expressed moderate concern
genetically engineered fish might pose risks to consumers if, for
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
gene-modified fish would inevitably escape into the environment.
Hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon have escaped into Northwest
from salmon farms over the past several years when floating pens were
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
McGonigle says the net pens would hold only sterile females,
possibility that escapees could breed in the wild. Several other
including some in Devlin's lab, have shown that the genetically
fish aren't likely to survive well outside of captivity because they're
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
threat and no behavioral threat, in terms of competition for
Washington's Fish and Wildlife Commission banned genetically engineered
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
hatchery program. Oregon has similar restrictions, while California
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
possible impacts of genetically engineered food fish before they're
"We're just starting to gather the kinds of laboratory information
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
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
For the study reported yesterday, Devlin and his colleagues manipulated
amount of food available to the fish. When food was abundant, normal and
genetically modified fish coexisted well. It was only when food was
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
only genetically engineered fish also crashed when food supplies were
Does that mean transgenic fish might pose little risk if they escaped
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
area, transgenic fish might eat themselves out of house and home and
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
that would ensue.
McGonigle says he hopes to have an FDA ruling within the next two
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
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
about what they're doing."
Published online before print June 10, 2004
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 10.1073/pnas.0400023101
Population effects of growth hormone transgenic coho salmon depend on
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,
Edited by Wyatt W. Anderson, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, and
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
other ecosystem members. Cultured growth hormone transgenic coho salmon
(Oncorhynchus kisutch) have enhanced feeding capacity and growth, which
result in large enhancements in body size (>7-fold) relative to
nontransgenic salmon, but in nature, the ability to compete for
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
dominant individuals emerged, invariably transgenic, that directed
agonistic and cannibalistic behavior to cohorts and dominated the
acquisition of limited food resources. When food availability was low,
groups containing transgenic salmon experienced population crashes or
complete extinctions, whereas groups containing only nontransgenic
had good (72.0 ± 4.3% SE) survival, and their population biomass
to increase. Thus, effects of growth hormone transgenic salmon on
experimental populations were primarily mediated by an interaction
food availability and population structure. These data, while
forces which may act on natural populations, also underscore the
of genotype by environment interactions in influencing risk assessment
for genetically modified organisms and suggest that, for species such as
salmon which are derived from large complex ecosystems, considerable
is warranted in applying data from individual studies.
*To whom correspondence should be addressed.
Robert H. Devlin, E-mail: [log in to unmask]