Tue, Jul 29, 2003 - Page 4 News List

GM fish sparks ecological debate

REUTERS , TAIPEI

The world's first glowing transgenic fish is shown at the BioTaiwan exhibition in Taipei Sunday. The Taiwanese developers injected the green fluorescent gene of a jellyfish into the embryo of the ricefish to make the colorless freshwater fish glow in the dark. Environmentalists fear the fish, nicknamed ``Night Pearl,'' could pose a threat to the earth's ecosystem.

PHOTO: REUTERS

When the world's first genetically engineered fish, the glowing "Night Pearl," hit the market two months ago, its Taiwan developer hoped for a sea of profits.

But instead, Taikong Corp dived into a barrage of criticism from environmentalists who say the 5cm fluorescent green fish poses a threat to the earth's ecosystem.

European environmentalists have been protesting against the genetically engineered fish -- injected with a jellyfish gene -- for months, and the Singapore government last week seized hundreds of them being imported, said Fisher Lin, research manager for Taikong, a Taipei-based pet fish breeder turned biotech firm.

"It's difficult to make a genetic engineering breakthrough, but it's even more difficult to commercialize the product," Lin said.

Environmentalists say that if the formerly colorless fresh water ricefish -- which now glows green in the dark -- is released into nature, it could wreak havoc on the ecosystem. But Lin insists that all the transgenic fish developed by Taikong are environmentally safe, as they are sterile.

The introduced gene comes from a natural marine organism and the finished product -- the glowing fish -- is merely protein and harmless to people or other marine creatures, he said.

"The greatest worries about introducing any new GMO (genetically modified organisms) are, first of all, the impact on the ecosystem, and secondly, whether it will cause a threat to human bodies," Lin said.

"We still have high hopes for the transgenic fish and believe they will sell. But we also know people will have a lot of questions," he said.

Taikong has already launched a second transgenic swimmer, a fluorescent purple zebra fish that has been injected with a gene found in coral, and hopes it and the ricefish will swim into aquariums all over the world. They also plan to introduce multicolored red, purple and blue fluorescent pet fish.

Each transgenic fish costs NT$600, compared to NT$20 for a colorless ricefish.

"It's very special," said 28-year-old Su Wen-ling, a graduate student who saw the fish at a biotech fair on Sunday.

"But the fish are innocent. I don't think it's necessary to apply genetic engineering to the fish for people's viewing pleasure. There are plenty of tropical fish that are beautiful."

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