Seems Fishy to Me...
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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.