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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
A few days ago I found this thread about spawning Glofish Danios:

http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/21-fish/1016841-success-first-try-pink-glofish-danio.html

It got me thinking about some of the issues around the availablity of GM fish in the hobby and what this could mean for the gene pool of various species. I'm not really interested in the political/commercial issues but more the potential problems associated with biodiversity and evolution that may arise with the reproduction and spread of GM fish.

Here are some interesting and readable discussions of the key questions, although a bit focused on GMO food sources the questions are equally applicable to GM fish bred by hobbyists:

Challenging Evolution: How GMOs Can Influence Genetic Diversity ? Science in the News

Are Genetically Engineered Salmon Too Fishy? - Room for Debate - NYTimes.com

Why Roundup Ready Crops Have Lost their Allure ? Science in the News

The Glofish website provides a FAQ and discussion of their views regarding the ethics of Glofish, Google "Glofish" to review this information.

There is no indication that these fish are sterile, quite the contrary, as the company describes the rigour of their breeding program. The company claims they monitor their breeding program to
analyze growth rates, temperature sensitivities, and mating success relative to non-GM fish of the same species. According to the website, if some line of fluorescent fish demonstrates increased strengths or successes in these areas relative to non-fluorescent fish of the same species they apparently do not offer them for sale.

It is not clear what they are comparing the GM fish with--other lab bred fish, other farm-raised fish, wild populations--one would expect differences in the genetic makeup of these varied groups. It is not clear how breeding restrictions like this would be managed (or would be monitored and imposed), if we hobbyists start breeding GM fish at home.

Historically the track record is not great for avoiding the introduction of non-GM (normal) and other hybrid invasive fish species into habitats around the world. So I'm not sure how GM species may be any different---as invasive species---should they become more widely available (e.g. see discussion in the Harvard roundup link above).

Personally, I prefer natural/biotope-like tanks, fish, and the amazing array of "discovered" and as yet "undiscovered" species present on the planet. I feel the original creation of flourescent fish as a scientific tool for use in the lab may have utility, but the presence of GM flourescent fish as ornaments in the public market may undermine the hobby and represent yet another human-generated risk to biodiversity.

What do you think?
 

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I think any time we influence the natural process we are potentially modifying things on a genetic level. Wether it's picking to fish with characteristics we like to breed together or selectively culling shrimp that aren't the right color, to tank raised species adapted to different water conditions than they are natively from, to hybrid plant propagation.

While florescent fish might be attention getting, truth is humans have been selectively modifying plants and animals for thousands of years, modern science has just made it easier. The question should really be about where the line should be drawn of what is and isn't acceptable to change and on good stewardship practices to make sure gm species either don't get into wild populations, or if they are allowed to mix, that any traits introduced are minor or beneficial to native populations. The same applies to non native specimens and invasive plants and fish (think gold fish and flying carp)
 

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I am much less concerned with a pink danio making it into the waterways than many of the fish we have in the hobby.
They won't last, the same thing that makes them appealing to us, makes them an ideal snack for predators.

Next thing you will see is genetic augmentation of humans, after which people will have the horrible choice to do this to themselves or loose out in competition to enhanced people.
 

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The good thing, Nordic, is that most of the bioengineering community is terrified of that possibility. As such, it is generally considered highly unethical and I'm fairly sure it's illegal to do such things (thanks to Gattica, good movie btw).
 

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Genetically modified fish are not just limited to glo fish. Any fish in the hobby that has varied from its natural form is genetically modified. Their is no difference in a coloured glo fish entering the natural to hybrid or mutation fish entering a natural environment. Unless the genetic mutation gives the fish an advantage it will likely be taken out of the gene pool. If by chance it does breed. The only difference will be that the fish it produces will have the modified genes as part of their genome. And the possibility is their if by chance these fish breed together or their descendants do that a throw back may occur.

As for being invasive, i wouldn't rate their chance of being more invasive as any better then fish still in their natural forms. As long as fish are only modified for how they look their is no real advantage in a situation outside of captivity where it would gain them an advantage. The danger with genetic modification tends to come when you modify things like disease resistance, temperature tolerance etc. Where the potential for the GM fish to have a better advantage.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
....Their is no difference in a coloured glo fish entering the natural to hybrid or mutation fish entering a natural environment. Unless the genetic mutation gives the fish an advantage it will likely be taken out of the gene pool.
....As long as fish are only modified for how they look their is no real advantage in a situation outside of captivity where it would gain them an advantage. The danger with genetic modification tends to come when you modify things like disease resistance, temperature tolerance etc. Where the potential for the GM fish to have a better advantage.
However, there is a difference between artificial selection and hybridization which involves sexual reproduction vs. genetically modifying an organism. A GMO fish involves the direct insertion/modification of segments of DNA in the genome of an individual fish species that could never sexually reproduce with a jellyfish, for example. This is what sets GMO's apart.

Selective breeding has, for sure, produced some spectacular fish lines in Discus, Bettas, and many others, for example. But this process takes time, multiple generations, and always involved the successful meeting of sperm and egg from the parents. The young are a product of successive recombinations of existing genetic material.

GMO fish are an end-run around the process of sexual reproduction; this DNA insertion mechanism is almost certainly subject to the Law of Unintended Consequences:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unintended_consequences

Just because we could breed a GMO does not mean we should or that these fish should be promoted as eye candy.
 

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Speaking for the pink zebrafish, just looking at their fry, they are visible from several meters, whereas you have trouble seeing the generic spawn from just a few centimetre.
 

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However, there is a difference between artificial selection and hybridization which involves sexual reproduction vs. genetically modifying an organism. A GMO fish involves the direct insertion/modification of segments of DNA in the genome of an individual fish species that could never sexually reproduce with a jellyfish, for example. This is what sets GMO's apart.

Selective breeding has, for sure, produced some spectacular fish lines in Discus, Bettas, and many others, for example. But this process takes time, multiple generations, and always involved the successful meeting of sperm and egg from the parents. The young are a product of successive recombinations of existing genetic material.

GMO fish are an end-run around the process of sexual reproduction; this DNA insertion mechanism is almost certainly subject to the Law of Unintended Consequences:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unintended_consequences

Just because we could breed a GMO does not mean we should or that these fish should be promoted as eye candy.
They are all genetically modifying an organism. The only difference is the method of which the techniques used in genetic modification and the time it takes to do it.

As for being promoted as eye candy, the entire aquarium industry is about eye candy. And promoting new mutations as eye candy, to me their is no difference in that and promoting glo fish as eye candy.

As for unintended consequence, any mutation or variation in DNA are subject to the law of unintended consequence.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Ssyd, I guess I'd have to agree with you--maybe, in the most general case.

But, wouldn't you agree that the differences in time scales and mechanisms are significant? One happens over many generations with existing genomes while the other happens instantly with artificially fabricated genomes.

Mutations are random events with a low probability of success which is ultimately determined through natural selection. Since evolution is not deterministic--that is--evolution does not operate with intention, the consequences are essentially what we see as biodiversity.

Unintended consequences are by definition the result of specific intentional actions by an agent. In this discussion the agent is "us" (or the company inserting the genes) and the intentional actions are creating a GM fish.

The issue is that getting comfortable with this type of (relatively modest) genetic manipulation will lower the threshold for pursuing future GM manipulations that may be much more problematic.

Yes, perhaps I was a bit quick to use the term "eye candy", sorry for that. What I was getting at is the difference between keeping a fish species that is engineered to "glow" and what many in this forum work to accomplish.

Generally, I think it's fair to say, we try to produce interesting planted tanks which reflect a safe and comfortable native environment for fish that are found world-wide in streams, lakes, etc. (biotopes, for example). In contrast the flourescent GM fish are being widely promoted as licensed intellectual property. This seems to not represent the best interest of these particular fish species, or the hobby in general, wouldn't you agree?
 

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As a Bioengineer I have to point out you have no idea how much red tape there is around the field in general. It's a literal sea of tape we have to wade through to get anything done.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
As a Bioengineer I have to point out you have no idea how much red tape there is around the field in general. It's a literal sea of tape we have to wade through to get anything done.
Having worked at a university for about 25 years--now retired, I've had exposure to regulations in research. What you describe is at least somewhat encouraging---although I guess you may not see it that way ;-). And thank you for highlighting this, as someone who's following the rules :).

The Harvard docs quoted earlier and the demonstration that the flourescent danios can reproduce outside the lab suggest red tape, patents, etc. may not always be sufficient to contain problems.

My goal with starting this discussion was not to try and arrive at a right answer regarding GM fish, but to encourage understanding, thinking and discussion about both sides of the issue. Thanks for your contribution.
 

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I don't think the problem lies as much with the small scale hobbyist.
If you would like to order some pink zebrafish off alibaba, the minimum order is 1 million fishes.
 

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There is also in the glofish case the fact that what makes them desirable to us has been proven to be a handicap in the wild.
There were tests done I remember reading a few years ago comparing predation statistics with the glofish vs standard danios.
No clue where on the interwebz this information is hiding now.
Glolfish were nearly wiped out, standard unmodified danios not so much.
Not much fear on the invasive species side of things.
Morally, who knows. Morals for most of the population depend entirely on if there is a large profit margin ;)
In the glofish issue, there is!
 
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I just purchased endlers liverbearers and have them in a tank with a few female guppies that are left over from the initial cycle stock. So if they breed, the offspring will be a hybrid and not "pure". But since these will never leave my tank any deviation from the wild stock is completely irrelevant and if they are hardier than pure guppies, why is that bad?

When you think about it, isn't this what happened to dogs. Watch any dog show and wonder how a Yorkie evolved from the same ancient wolf as a Mastiff. New lawn seeds are drought and disease tolerant, forget the old crappy grass.

BTW, I don't own any glow in the dark fish, but if we can engineer fish that can withstand a wider range of water parameters and can tolerate more neglect then pure breeds, isn't that good for the hobby?
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
There is also in the glofish case the fact that what makes them desirable to us has been proven to be a handicap in the wild.
There were tests done I remember reading a few years ago comparing predation statistics with the glofish vs standard danios.
No clue where on the interwebz this information is hiding now.
Glolfish were nearly wiped out, standard unmodified danios not so much.
Not much fear on the invasive species side of things.
Morally, who knows. Morals for most of the population depend entirely on if there is a large profit margin ;)
In the glofish issue, there is!
No surprise on the predation question, when I first saw these fish it looked like a tank full of fishing lures. For the curious, here's the study that examined predation:

Hill, Jeffrey E.; Kapuscinski, Anne R.; Pavlowich, Tyler (2011). "Fluorescent Transgenic Zebra Danio More Vulnerable to Predators than Wild-Type Fish". Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 140 (4): 1001–1005. doi:10.1080/00028487.2011.603980

Now, the moral question is interesting. For example, these transgenic zebra fish are being promoted by Tetra--in particular to kids as a way to get into fishkeeping--as noted on the Glofish(R) website, plus there's a pile of accessories that can go with them. The licensor refers to a slew of patents, here's an interesting one: US Patent No. 7700825 titled "Recombinant constructs and transgenic fluorescent ornamental fish therefrom".

The Abstract is even more interesting (from the US PTO website):

"The present invention relates to the method and use of reef coral fluorescent proteins in making transgenic red, green and yellow fluorescent zebrafish. Preferably, such fluorescent zebrafish are fertile and used to establish a population of transgenic zebrafish and to provide to the ornamental fish industry for the purpose of marketing. Thus, new varieties of ornamental fish of different fluorescence colors from a novel source are developed."

Seem like a good place to stick a reef coral gene? [Too bad we are having so much trouble keeping the native reef corals healthy where they live.]

It looks like the international patent apps were only requested for Canada, Japan and the EU for some of these patents. The one above (7700825) is US only. So I guess that makes the technology fair game elsewhere--like China.

Now that most of you are falling asleep....hear's the knockout:

Some of you may have heard of CRISPR technology for gene editing. The reason we need to be thinking about Glofish, etc. is because CRISPR will likely to turn this process into a piece of cake for just about anyone with a mission---moral or otherwise.

A CRISPR view of development

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CRISPR_interference

Comments are welcome....I think I've done my bit to thrash the topic.

Cheers.
 

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Thanks, I knew the study was out there somewhere.
As for CRISPR, I will withhold comments until I read the material in its entirety. (Not tonight as work draws ever nearer and I need sleep lol)

I will say the following is certainly at least slightly concerning:

RGNs have made it possible to precisely modify the genomes of a great variety of organisms and cultured cells with unprecedented ease. The rapid pace of improvements, new applications, and adoption for use in diverse organisms makes the CRISPR–Cas9 system an exciting and significant technical leap forward for developmental biology studies.

They ain't just talkin' 'bout fish Y'all.
 

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The group that developed the GM danios had almost been shut down by the EPA over environmental concerns, and had actually developed the fish on paper a long time ago; it's just inserting fluorescent proteins into an egg, after all. Pretty simple stuff.
Evidently the EPA had changed their minds a few years ago and that's why we see them around today. According to the agreement when you buy the fish you cannot reproduce them or resell them in captivity.
Also there's a belief with GM that regulation must be a good thing and there's so much fearmongering and general lack of understanding about genetically modified animals. Please understand that it's really no different from the genetic variations that come about from normal farming and other processes. The only difference is we can now select specifically for traits we want, rather than smashing things together with unintended consequences (see things like "purebred" dogs that cannot function properly to understand what I mean, or in the case of our hobby the famous OEBT and Royal Blue shrimp that are so inbred they cannot survive at high temperatures.)
 

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Same argument that pops up all the time around gmo crops. The fact is that selective breeding happens in nature, genetic modification happens in a lab with a gene gun. Not at all comparable.

The world doesn't need gmo crops and the hobby certainly doesn't need gmo ornamental fish. We as hobbyist shouldn't support such nonsense
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
....Also there's a belief with GM that regulation must be a good thing and there's so much fearmongering and general lack of understanding about genetically modified animals. Please understand that it's really no different from the genetic variations that come about from normal farming and other processes. The only difference is we can now select specifically for traits we want, rather than smashing things together with unintended consequences (see things like "purebred" dogs that cannot function properly to understand what I mean, or in the case of our hobby the famous OEBT and Royal Blue shrimp that are so inbred they cannot survive at high temperatures.)
As with most things there are always extreme views. I do feel that it's not really about fearmongering, just being extremely cautious.

It was noted in an earlier post that one can order a million glofish on Alibaba. If multi-millions of GM fish are being bred then statistically it's likely a spontaneous mutation to a recessive form of the gene could occur. This would allow the gene to spread in the population undetected.

While the consequences for the glo gene may be minimal, in the general case other GM attributes could do the same. My understanding is the purpose of the glo gene was originally to only express when certain environmental conditions were present. So in a healthy environment, you'd not know the gene was in the population--kind of a stealth gene.

Actually, I think your point about dog and cat breeding is quite relevant to GMO's. The problems we've seen with inbred dogs and cats may have been largely avoided if breeders handled the information in pedigrees differently (see link below). Breeders did/do have the tools available in the form of pedigree analysis and calculations of Coefficients of relationship/inbreeding to guide mating choices. While some do use this, many do not.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coefficient_of_relationship

To my knowledge, no pedigrees for fish in the hobby are generally maintained or publicly available. This is very likely why we see so many deformaties and fish which just do not thrive which come from massive breeding farms.

In the case of transgenic fish, the starting point is with a very small gene pool as only so many eggs/sperm can be modified. Once modified, it's much easier and cheaper on a large scale to replicate the GM fish through breeding than to build more modified eggs/sperm. Since the owners of the patents for these transgenic fish "control" the subsequent breeding, they must also manage the pedigrees. This means these fish could see the same problems as dog and cat breeders unless those controlling/owning the patents are extremely rigorous at exerting pedigree control for matings.

What this all means is GM fish---and other transgenic organisms---will ultimately be under the power and control of a very few who also have significant financial interests in this control. History tells us that power and control in the hands of a very few with significant financial interests does not work out so well for everyone else.
 
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