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Seems Fishy to Me...


A Bad Omen for the Future of the Hobby?

by Spencer Glass

You say ten bucks for a Danio! Are you kidding? "Take a closer look", says Bobby Fishcatcher. I do. Yes, they are Zebra Danios alright, but they are sporting fluorescent red stripes. "They glow in the dark, ya know", Bobby informs me. Unfortunately for Bobby, I quickly quell his zest by telling him that I don’t buy dyed fish. Bobby isn’t your typical dopy teenaged store employee, though. He has some actual knowledge.

Technically speaking, this is a fictionalized scenario, but it’s not  altogether far from the truth. I did see fluorescent-striped Zebra Danios and they did cost ten dollars. My made-up store employee was right about them not being dyed though. What they are has come about through genetic engineering. Apparently, by some splicing the natural protein genes of jellyfish or certain coral species into Danios, man has come up with a living concoction to put on the market. And I though the fluorescent-colored glassfish were bad!  Hmmph!


Standard Zebra Danios (Danio Rerio) deserve their status as a staple of the hobby, but  the author feels that genetically-altered glow-in-the- dark specimens may do more harm to the the hobby than good. 

About a year ago, upon initial introduction into the market place, the state of California saw fit to ban these genetically-altered fish. The initial research was not consulted, but once fiction became reality, officials got nervous. The ban came more out of a concern for the possible pollution of California’s freshwater systems by these fish. Because this fish is a genetic mutatant, environmentalists feared that unintentional release of these fish may cause rampant proliferation of glow-in-the-dark fish. I have my tongue slightly in my cheek, but the introduction of any non-native species is cause for concern, let alone those that, ahem - glow.

My primary concern is not so much that indigenous fish consuming a glowing Danio would start to phosphor, but more radically, that the aquarium hobby is headed in the wrong direction. As a long-time aquarist and a teacher, my romantic notion was that keeping tropical fish would teach aquarists about living beings, their biology, their ecology and other areas of interest. What I imagine now is aquarium stores marketing beginner fish tanks and chemistry sets in tandem.

I am a staunch believer in research. I am all for stem cell research. If it can save a life or make someone walk again, I am always going to be a strong proponent for the sciences. I would even imagine that scientific research often lends itself to offshoot discoveries. Could we learn to save lives through advances in genetic splicing? I hope so. What I can’t condone, is putting garbage like this fish on the market. As a matter of fact, I despise all of the unnaturally produced fish on the market, including but not limited to Painted Glassfish, dip and dyed Tetras, and those fed with color enhancing hormones.

In a recently published article, Dr. Peter Burgess asks what  the pros and cons of these and other genetically engineered fish are. "On the plus side, the glowing zebra fish are a fascinating sight. Selective breeding alone could never achieve these fluorescing green and pink colors."

Dr. Burgess offers that the initial purpose of their development was to act as an aquatic canary in figurative aquatic coal mines, acting as a living indicator of water pollution.

I think the down side of these fish will emanate from beginners. Yeah, right now at ten bucks a shot, it’s doubtful that people just entering the hobby are going to snatch them up by the bucketful. Those that will spend the money might be those advanced hobbyists who want to see if this genetic modification will render the fish infertile or not. Sterility is often the case when we mess with Mother Nature, but not always. If breeding the glow Danio is as easy as breeding the standard Danio, the price will soon drop enough for newbies to buy them up for their newly purchased home aquariums. Is this so bad? Here in lies the debate.

One might say that more dazzling freshwater fish may spark new interest in the aquarium hobby. What does more people in the hobby accomplish? If you’re in the pet business, it’s more profit. If you’re not, does it really matter to you? We could get into a whole economic discussion here about supply and demand, but I don’t see filter pad prices going down, even if a million more people buy aquariums tomorrow. And what I do see, I don’t like.

I predict that more artificially color enhanced fish will be brought to the market. Will they push out other aquarium standards to the point of debilitating the wholesale economics of the ornamental fish trade? Will tiger barbs cease to exist? Will the dull black and gray Convict Cichlid be pushed out of the market, despite it’s propensity to breed and protect in any captive environment? This behavior is far more interesting than a pink-striped hyper fish!

Fish behavior can be so interesting when studied, especially by kids. How will new hobbyists ever progress to intermediate and advanced stages of the hobby if all that becomes of fish keeping is the procurement of neon-glow-in-the-dark-fluorescent colored fish? I was always one to say I don’t like to stand up on a soapbox and tell other people what they should do or what is right and what is wrong. I really hope the market takes care of that. I am pleased however, that at least in the United Kingdom many hobbyists and retailers have ceased to accept the marketing and sale of these creatures.

Bigger and brighter is not always better. I don’t like to envision a "Jetson’s" future where pets are robotic. We could dye the water pink and fill it with little mechanical silver-blue Piranhas who's the teeth have been genetically engineered to be harmless to the human hand. We could splice in a hair gene and make them into cuddly furry pets that could stay in the water or even come out and sit on your lap while you watch robot-football.
Subject: AHHS:  Germany May Jail Hobbyists For GM Fish
Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2007 13:05:26 -0000
Genetically Modified Fluorescent Fish Illegally Smuggled into Germany,1518,472688,00.html
"German authorities are concerned that genetically modified fluorescent fish are being smuggled into the country. Even though the fish are legal in the US, dealers here face fines of €50,000 or five years in jail.
There has been widespread concern in Europe about genetically modified organisms, with protesters warning of the dangers of "Frankenstein foods." Now glow-in-the-dark Frankenstein fish have been smuggled into Germany -- and the authorities are concerned about the illegal trade."
Typical of the level of reporting from the environmentalist, they can't even tell the difference between Medaka (Oryxias latipes) and Zebrafish (Danio rerio). Check the pictures Der Spiegel used in the story.
In the last year the Glofish available in the USA have been totally re-engineered and are using new florescent proteins to produce the new colors based on gold Zebrafish host. The advantage of the gold Zebrafish is that the reduced melanin levels allow the florescent proteins to express much brighter. Yorktown Technologies made a serious error when they first introduced the Glofish using the wild color Zebrafish. The GM Medaka have always been based on the gold mutation of that species. Like the gold Medaka, the golf Zebrafish is not as robust as their wild cousins.  This could be a marketing advantage to Yorktown Technologies because they could correctly content that the gold Zebrafish is even less viable in the wild.
Here are some of the florescent protein colors which are now available to generic engineers:\ product_family_id=1417&product_group_id=1437&product_id=10419
Our unfortunate friends in Germany should have known better than to display any GM fish publicly. Fortunately most of the serious collectors of GM fish in the European Union are not so naive. I wonder when the environmentalists are going to realize that 50% of the offspring of Glofish don't glow? Could the non-glowing descendents of Glofish be Frankenfish even unto the eight generation? I believe that similar ideas pertaining to genetic purity were very popular in Germany 75 years ago.


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