GM salmon on the market in 2008?

A salmon that grows up really fast could soon be approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). In fact, it's possible that such a fish could be on the market as early as 2008. Even if this genetically modified salmon grows twice as fast as normal farmed salmon, it will look like -- and taste -- as normal salmon.

Back in 2002, I told you about several cloned food products which could reach our supermarkets. Now, BusinessWeek reports that one of them, a salmon that grows up really fast, could soon be approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). In fact, it's possible that such a fish could be on the market as early as 2008. Even if this genetically modified salmon grows twice as fast as normal farmed salmon, it will look like -- and taste -- as normal salmon.

Here are some excerpts from the BusinessWeek article.

If Elliot Entis can win FDA approval for his quick-growing fish, he'll pave the way for other food companies working on genetically modified animals. His company, Aqua Bounty Technologies, has created a breed of salmon that grows twice as fast as normal farmed salmon, because they carry part of the genetic code of another type of fish, the ocean pout.

Below is a picture showing the respective growths of a GM salmon and a non-GM one at the same age (Credit: Aqua Bounty).

A GM salmon and a non-GM one at the same age

But why this GM fish is growing so fast?

Entis' salmon grow so fast because of a change made to one of the roughly 40,000 genes in their DNA. In normal salmon, the gene that controls the production of growth hormone is activated by light, so the fish generally grow only during the sunny summer months. But by attaching what's known as a "promoter sequence" -- part of a specific gene -- from the pout, Aqua Bounty ended up with salmon that make growth hormone all year round.

It doesn't look very dangerous for our health, even if the FDA has grilled Entis for several years now, asking about the modified genes and how it could affect us.

In "5 Myths About Transgenic Salmon," Aqua Bounty gives some answers to win the confidence of future customers. Here are two examples.

MYTH 2: If transgenic salmon do breed successfully with native fish, their novel gene will escape into the wild gene pool and destroy native salmon populations, the so-called "Trojan Gene" theory.
FACT: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will not approve the use of transgenic salmon in areas where they could escape into the wild unless they can be shown to be sterile. Aqua Bounty Farms has stated that in such areas it will market only sterile, all female transgenic salmon. This will ensure that there can be no gene flow to the wild salmon population, because sterile fish cannot reproduce.
MYTH 3: Sterilization is not 100 percent effective so we can’t be sure that transgenic salmon will really be sterile.
FACT: Triploidy produces 100 percent sterilization in female salmon because it prevents the development of the ovaries needed to produce eggs. The only uncertainties about the technique have been raised in the context of male salmon, grass carp and oysters. There is no scientific debate over the complete sterility of triploid female salmon.

True or not, this GM salmon could appear at your local supermarket in about two years. Are you ready for it?

Sources: Arlene Weintraub, BusinessWeek Magazine, January 16, 2006 Issue; and various web sites

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