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Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK
'Superfish' to ease food shortage
Tilapia fish
The tilapia will grow at three times the natural rate
A genetically-modified "superfish" could be the key to easing food shortages in the developing world as well as helping accident victims, according to researchers.

The tilapia is said to be the second most important food fish in the world, after the carp.

Now geneticists at Southampton University hope to increase the speed of its growth through genetic modification.

It is also hoped that the research will lead to the cheap production of a blood-clotting agent, which is used in treating injuries.

We realise that people are not going to be happy with the idea of a genetically-modified fish

Professor Norman Maclean, Southampton University

Norman Maclean, professor of genetics at the university, said they plan to carry out trials of the work in Thailand.

The team's work has been funded by the Department for International Development.

Professor Maclean said: "With this work we hope that we can enable a three-fold increase in the growth rate of the tilapia.

"They will also be bigger than the naturally-occurring fish."

The researchers are currently trying to produce a sterile strain of the fish, so that it can be safely used in agriculture.

Reduce costs

Professor Maclean said they also hoped to use the fish as a "bio factory" to produce medical treatments.

"We are currently working with an American bio-tech company to produce this blood-clotting agent called 'factor seven', which is very important in the treatment of someone who has, for example, been involved in a road accident," he said.

"At the moment, factor seven is being used, but it is very expensive, and this research should help reduce the costs of its production."

GM education

Professor Maclean acknowledged that because the research is a GM process, the work could prove controversial.

"We realise that people are not going to be happy with the idea of a genetically-modified fish," he said.

"A lot of education has to be done to remove misunderstandings and concerns about the hazards of GM.

"But I'm confident that people will come to understand and know what's safe to eat."

See also:

14 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
'Setback' for GM fish
29 Sep 00 | Sci/Tech
GM 'solution' to over-fishing
09 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
Go-ahead for GM insect release
11 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
GM monkey first
06 Dec 00 | Sci/Tech
Scientists crack designer eggs
25 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Mosquito attacks its own problem
03 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Lethal 'switch' kills pests
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