Menu

Genetically Modified Commercial Marine Species

Genetically modified organisms is any organism whose  DNA has been modified, or altered using genetic engineering technology. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) make up genetically modified foods. The first genetically modified plant, antibiotic-resistant tobacco, was introduced in 1983. A year later, the FDA approved the transgenic Flavr Savr tomato, which ripened more slowly after being picked. Transgenesis is the process of inserting a new gene into a living organism, modifying the properties of the living organism and transferring those new properties to its offspring. It is more common to add more genes to a plant’s genome than to remove them.

There are benefits to genetically modified foods, but this debate is not one dimensional. There is much controversy over genetically modified foods. One of the issues brought to light about GM foods is that in the United States and in Canada, there is no legal requirement for genetically modified foods to be labeled as such. Though, there are many labeling initiatives, like the Center for Food Safety and LabelGMOs, looking to promote organic food and genetic engineered food labels.

In the early 1990s, the deadly papaya ringspot virus almost destroyed the papaya industry in Hawaii. However after a new breed of papaya, engineered to be resistant against the virus was developed, the industry was able to stay afloat. The Hawaiian papaya case study highlights some of the arguments for GMOs. Arguments for genetically modified include: the potential for increased nutritional value to foods by inserting genes responsible for vitamin production, increased crop productivity and therefore less farm land needed, and longer shelf lives for food at supermarkets.

There are benefits to genetically modified foods, but this debate is not one dimensional. There is much controversy over genetically modified foods. One of the issues brought to light about GM foods is that in the United States and in Canada, there is no legal requirement for genetically modified foods to be labeled as such. Though, there are many labeling initiatives, like the Center for Food Safety and LabelGMOs, looking to promote organic food and genetic engineered food labels.

Further concerns about genetically modified organisms being used for food are that new gene combinations in plants or animals could trigger previously unheard of or unpredicted allergies in consumers. Groups are also worried that engineering new properties in plants or animals could harm their natural counterparts if gene pools mix, as these new properties might not be as adaptive in the wild, or the new-engineered species would invade and take over wild populations.

 The superweed case study shines light on the implications of engineering crops that are tolerant of herbicides. From 1983 to present, consumers have been eating genetically modified plants; however there has never been a genetically modified animal, let alone a modified marine animal, in production until now.

 

The Risk?

AquaBounty assures that no genetically modified salmon will escape into the wild, or pose threat to wild salmon populations because their sterile, all-female populations will be farmed in land based facilities with biological and physical containment. They also claim that their land based facilities will lower the negative impact on coastal areas that marine based aquaculture can have, and reduce environmental impacts associated with long-distance shipping. An animated video describing the genetically modified salmon can be found on AquaBounty's website.

A Controversial Debate

However, not everyone is on board with genetically modified salmon. As of 2014, The Ecology Action Centre and the Living Oceans Society are suing the federal government of Canada, claiming that the approval for the commercial production of GM salmon is unlawful because it did not assess whether genetically modified salmon could become invasive. The Ecology Action Centre explains that over millions of years, Atlantic salmon has adapted to living in the cold waters from Maine to Russia and if the genetically modified salmon escape and mate with the wild species, it could become detrimental to the gene pool of, the already endangered, wild salmon, potentially lowering the chances of hybrid survival in the wild. Read more about their legal arguments in their press release. Fisheries and Oceans Canada has also released a Summary of the Environmental and Indirect Human Health Risk Assessment of AquaAdvantage Salmon.

Case study: GM Salmon in Atlantic Canada

AquaBounty Technologies is a company that produces genetically modified Atlantic Salmon eggs in Prince Edward Island. AquaBounty's genetically altered salmon eggs grow twice as quickly as those of regular salmon. AquaBounty is also developing breeds of trout, tilapia, and shrimp species that will grow faster than wild species or those in land-based aquaculture farms. Despite these additional species, the focus is on the genetically modified salmon, which includes a gene from the Chinook salmon and the Ocean Pout resulting in a fish that grows to market size in half of the time it takes for conventional salmon growth.

*PICTURE*

AquaBounty's AquAdvantage Salmon with genes from the Chinook Salmon and Ocean Pout. AquaBounty, is seeking approval from the federal government of Canada to sell its bred salmon for aquaculture production, where it would be distributed nationwide. Genetically Modified Salmon has been approved for production in Canada in 2013. This GM Atlantic salmon from Prince Edward Island would be the first genetically modified animal in the world to be sold in supermarkets.

Go to top