Saturday, November 22, 2003

Attack of the mutant guppies

Yorktown Technologies just announced that they will soon start selling genetically modified fish that glow in the dark. They introduced the gene that makes sea-anemones glow into tropical zebra-fish, which made the fish (which are normally silver and black) bright red in normal light and fluorescent under UV light. The consequences of releasing this new transgenic species into the wild are being hotly debated.

I recall that years ago a company started selling a plant to tropical fish owners, and that eventually someone dumped the plant into the ocean... where it grew like mad, choking the life out of the seabeds as it grew without bound in an environment that did not contain the natural checks and balances that existed in it's native habitat. I've read a genetics textbook, so I know just enough to be dangerous, but one of the things I do know is that the issue is so complex that the substitution of a single gene can have results ranging from a change in color to a change in viability. These little fish may be harmlessly colored cousins of the unmodified stock, or they could have some as-yet-unknown subtle difference that can fuck up the ecosystem... they could be less viable, they could be more viable, they could be disease vectors, or they could upset the food chain.

Genetic modification is coming. Actually, it's here: Americans bitch about genetically modified corn, yet they drink milk and eat meat from cows that have been modified with steroids. As the world's population grows and our resources dwindle, I suspect that we will look to genetic modification to make existing resources 'better'... but I also suspect that there will be unexpected tragic consequences. The part that gets me is that this little experiment could be the spark that touches off an environmental catastrophe... and they're doing this so rich assholes can have glowing fish.

UPDATE: The state of California has banned these fish.