Earlier this week, I was mentioning monster trouts. Today, let's talk about the GloFish™, the first genetically modified (GM) pets. These fluorescent red zebrafish are now on sale in the U.S. for $5, except in California where sales have been banned. Now, according to the Scientist, watchdog groups want the FDA to regulate these pets.
The first genetically modified (GM) pets sold in the United States, fluorescent red zebrafish called GloFish, are the focus of a lawsuit against the government from environmental and food safety groups seeking federal regulation of the animals. A coalition led by the Center for Food Safety, a national watchdog group in Washington, DC, plans to file suit this week in a federal district court against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for not regulating GloFish.
"It's clear this sets a precedent for genetically engineered animals. It opens the dams to a whole host of nonfood genetically engineered organisms. That's unacceptable to us and runs counter to things the National Academy of Sciences and other scientific review boards have said, particularly when it comes to mobile GM organisms like fish and insects," Joseph Mendelson, the Center for Food Safety's legal director, told The Scientist.
Zebrafish (Danio rerio), native to the Ganges River in India, are normally striped black and grey and are commonplace both in labs and as pets. Scientists at the National University of Singapore engineered the fish with the gene for red fluorescent protein from sea anemones and coral to detect water pollution, initially injecting the gene into one- or two-cell embryos before they hatched, although GloFish now come from stable lines bred from the original experimental animals.
Here is a photo -- taken under natural white light -- of a bunch of Glofish swimming happily (Copyright 2003 Yorktown Technologies).
The FDA, which holds jurisdiction over the commercial development of GM animals, announced in December that it found no reason to regulate these pets. "Because tropical aquarium fish are not used for food purposes, they pose no threat to the food supply. There is no evidence that these genetically engineered zebra danio fish pose any more threat to the environment than their unmodified counterparts which have long been widely sold in the United States," the FDA stated.
Citing the precedent GloFish could set, Mendelson noted that a number of ornamental fish can also be food fish and that the escape of GM ornamental food fish could pose a problem to public and environmental health. "There's a chance here organisms can proliferate without any safety monitoring," Mendelson said. "That's an abdication of what FDA's role is. They've frankly punted on this GloFish issue, and the ramifications are going to be significant. That's why we've to go stop it."
What do they think? That you'll eat the fish? Or that your cat will chase them?
Anyway, if you want to wait a little bit, green and yellow fish should become available later this year.
Source: Charles Q Choi and Steve Nash, The Scientist, January 7, 2004