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Wednesday, 14 February, 2001, 23:36 GMT
'Setback' for GM fish
BBC Rainbow trout
Farmed rainbow trout grow faster and further
By BBC News Online's Ivan Noble

Genetically modifying plants may help them to grow better but the technology does not always work as well in fish, according to Canadian research.

Scientists at Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans found that inserting a growth hormone gene into wild trout made the fish grow bigger and fatter.

This is baseline research to give us the knowledge needed for effective regulation

Don Noakes
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

But it had little impact on commercial species that had been bred to grow quicker.

The researchers conclude that genetic engineering can increase the size and growth rate of wild fish but conventional breeding techniques might be just as effective in producing fish for farming.

In addition the GM trout had deformities not seen in the other fish, they report.

It comes as US regulators decide whether to allow the public to eat GM salmon.

Environmentalists oppose approval because they believe that the modified fish could escape into the wild and wipe out the population there - what they call the "Trojan gene" effect.

Risk assessment

The trout research, which was carried out by Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans in 1994, has just been published in the scientific journal Nature.

The work involved taking a growth hormone gene from salmon and injecting it into the eggs of rainbow trout.

Fisheries and Oceans' Don Noakes told BBC News Online that the purpose was to assess the risks of GM technology: "We were carrying out baseline research to provide us with the knowledge needed for effective regulation.

The public would find these experiments vulgar and unnecessary

Adrian Bebb
"Someone might want to use this technology in Canada or for export to Canada," he said.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) condemned the research.

"I think that the public would find these experiments with fish vulgar and unnecessary," FoE food campaigner Adrian Bebb told BBC News Online.

Breeding shortcut

Since the beginning of civilisation, humans have domesticated a variety of creatures and along the way they have selected the animals which best suited their purposes - the fattest, the hardiest or even the most tasty.

Such breeding means that domesticated animals are usually quite different from their wild relatives.

Genetic engineering is an attempt to speed up this process by directly inserting a desired gene from one species into another.

In this case, it appears that old-fashioned breeding and selection has already produced the best trout.

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See also:

29 Sep 00 | Sci/Tech
GM 'solution' to over-fishing
11 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Giant GM salmon on the way
01 Dec 99 | Sci/Tech
'Trojan gene' could wipe out fish
18 May 99 | Food under the microscope
GM food: Head to head
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