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Assessing Transgenic Salmon

Assessing Transgenic Salmon

Are the risks posed by genetically-modified salmon worse than how we presently get our salmon to market and stomachs?

Author: Trevor Quirk/Sunday, June 28, 2015/Categories: marine mammals, marine life, sustainability, environment

Would you eat a genetically modified salmon? The Salt, at NPR, reports that the biotech firm, AquaBounty Technologies, has engineered (so to speak) salmon that can grow twice as fast as their farm-raised cousins.

Considering the ecological risks, the article defers to a review published in BioScience this month, which attempts to assess whether transgenic salmon could out-compete and even displace wild salmon -- which would make them, transgenic salmon, akin to an invasive species. Even though transgenic salmon would be farmed, hence isolated, like much of the salmon market today.

So the concern for their effect on "natural" ecosystems would only arise if these salmon escaped from containment. It's hard to say how worried we should be about this.

The paper concludes that "In many - perhaps most - cases, GH-transgenic strains are expected in theory to have equivalent or reduced fitness when compared with wild type, because the dramatically altered phenotypes they possess are not those that have evolved because of natural selection."

Yet the authors admit to a high degree of uncertainty in this conclusion because simply being an invasive species does not guarantee the success of that species in its new environment. The effect of genetic modifications can go either way -- better fitness or worse fitness. And, largely, we won't know until we see them in action, in nature.

It should be said, though, while it's important to study the consequences of a given food production scheme, there is no ecologically or morally neutral one. Our present way of getting fish to market is threatening the world's fisheries. And so while there may be risks to transgenic fish or even in vitro meat, grown in a lab, both might be better options than the present one.
 
Image credit: AquaBounty Technologies; modified for educational purposes by scienceprogress.org

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