Fri, Nov 26, 2004 - Page 11 News List

Fluorescent fish company introduces gold version

FRANKENFISH Taikong Corp raved about the new genetically modified fish, which it says will be a hit in the China market. But environmentalists are worried

AFP , Wuku, Taiwan

A Taiwanese company, which has earned global fame with its transgenic fish, has updated its product line with a new species which glows fluorescent gold in the dark, raising concerns among environmentalists.

"We are very excited about the new fish," the latest in a line of genetically modified fish developed by Taikong Corp (邰港科技) since 2001, said the company's finance manager Bill Kuo (郭文斌).

Kuo told reporters he saw huge market potential for the fish in China because "traditionally, gold represents prosperity and fortune to the Chinese."

Each fish will sell for NT$59 (US$1.80).

"The fish is especially charming because while it glows with gold fluorescence under white light, it is able to change colors under other kinds of aquarium lights," said Lin Hsueh-lian (林學廉), head of the company's research team.

When the company's first neon fish hit the domestic market last year, the average price was around NT$600 apiece. Some even sold for NT$3,000, Kuo said.

The glow-in-the-dark fish was listed as one of the "coolest inventions" last year by US Time magazine.

"At that time, we were unable to mass breed neon fish. We were only able to provide thousands of such fish each month," Kuo said, noting that Taikong had now overcome the breeding barriers.

Now the company is setting its sights on China, having already licensed a Chinese fish farm to mass produce the transgenic fish.

Worldwide demand is estimated at around 200 million of such fish, the company said.

Taikong first drew attention in 2001 when it displayed a Japan-originated rice fish which emitted neon green all over its body.

The gene transferring expertise used by the company's researchers consists of introducing a fluorescent protein extracted from jelly fish, into the nucleus of a rice fish embryo by "microinjection."

Through this process, the fluorescence replicates and takes hold in the fish embryo, the company said, adding that the transplanted genes may come from a fish of the same or different species.

Taikong Corp has sought to allay fears that the transgenic fish might cause harm by crossbreeding with wild species and producing "Frankenfish."

The fish are sterilized through "chromosome manipulation technique" before they go on the market, it said.

Jan Fan-hua, professor from Taiwan Ocean University, dismissed concerns about the neon fish saying they were not predatory and would not be able to survive even if they were thrown into rivers.

However, some environmentalists remain sceptical.

"It is not proper to put the fish on the markets at this moment. More evaluations and tests should have been done by responsible government agencies,'" said Liu Ming-lone, of the Environmental Quality Protection Fund.

"The company claims the fish would not have a negative bearing on the environment, but who can say for sure that anything unknown to us now might not happen in the future?"

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