Jurassic Salmon

Posted: February 12, 2013 in Urban farming
Tags: , , ,

Michael Crichton truly was a genius. In 1990, he published a fiction novel about genetically engineered dinosaurs which were created for a destination zoo off the coast of Costa Rica. The genetically engineered animals were modified in various ways: they were all female, genetically engineered that way, of course; they were all sterile, irradiation; and they were bred lysine dependent so that if not provided lysine, they would die. The scientists and zoo keepers and engineers designed transport cages, habitats, and other containment equipment for the dinosaurs and quickly discovered that everything created was too slow. Also, the dinosaurs proved to be much smarter than the people expected and lo, ultimately, they escaped, creating havoc in the park and eating people. Finally, in an utter insult to the marvels of science, the all female and completely sterile dinosaurs bred. Not all of the breeds, just the ones incorporating rana or frog DNA. Evidently, there are some species in the animal kingdom that can spontaneously change sex from female to male in a single sex environment. Switching sex has been observed in annelids (ringed worms), echinoderms (i.e. starfish, sea urchins), crustaceans, molluscs, fishes, and of course, some frogs. The dinosaurs were irradiated to induce sterility. In the book, some of the dinosaurs made it to the mainland, bit a few people, ate a few babies, and then, disappeared into the Costa Rican jungle, consuming fields of lysine rich crops as they went. One of the best ideas in the book, voiced by the character, Malcolm, naturally, was that a created animal is alive and one cannot expect an animal, even a created one, to not act alive.

Now, I will admit, it is highly unlikely that the genetically engineered (GE) Salmonosaurus Rex are going to escape their containment in either Canada or Panama and rampage about eating people. I’m not so sure about the escaping containment part when they are shipped from Canada to Panama as I doubt they will be flown first class or driven across the U.S. and Central America, and are more likely to travel via container on a ship, but again, I doubt there will be rampaging. But, escape? Hmm. Most likely not. Right? I was also bothered by the claims that these GE salmon are all going to be female and that they are all sterile. It was so freakily reminiscent of those first few chapters of Jurassic Park, that I had to chuckle. Because, while I do recognize that one is most certainly fiction, and the other is an draft environmental assessment (EA), and therefore, should not be fiction, the justifications for the safety of the GE salmon really does sound like Hammond’s dinosaur hustle. Of course, the reason that these GE salmon will all be female is not from irradiation. Can you imagine, irradiating every salmon spawned in this operation? No, these GE salmon will be sterile because triploidy will be induced in the eggs. Induced, not genetically engineered. Hmm. Maybe it does sound a little like the irradiation…

The draft EA is for a New Animal Drug Application for the integrated α-form of the opAFP-GHc2 gene construct at the α-locus in the EO-1α line of triploid, all-female, genetically engineered Atlantic salmon (AquAdvantage Salmon)”. Yep, even my BS in Chemistry does not help me there. These salmon will be made as eyed-eggs and then, grown out in isolated freshwater facilities. Lox World, maybe? The salmon will then, be shipped back to the U.S. for sale. Real potential for accidental escape or release does exist. The EA discusses redundant systems which will be used to keep eggs on site in Canada so that the water used in the system, which will eventually be released into the waste stream, does not carry eggs into the waste stream and out into the world. On page 81, “In the event of an approval, all AquAdvantage Salmon eggs produced for shipment to the Panama grow-out facility would be subjected to pressure treatment to induce triploidy, which would effectively sterilize the population.” Pressure treatment? This technique has been used on farmed salmon for years now and is described in the EA as effective in controlling populations of farmed salmon. Triploidy was originally tried in the 1990’s as a way to control farm raised salmon breeding. Higher mortality rates, deformities, and general poor performance resulted. Euuwww. That does not sound appetizing. Triploidy is the presence of 3 chromosomes rather than the normal 2 chromosomes. In humans, triploidy generally results in miscarriage or early death. Yep. Still not appetizing.

GM foods currently on the market include crops such as papaya, zucchini, soy, corn, cotton, sugar beets, and canola and these plants constitute large percentages of crops in the U.S. And how successful have they been? Biologically, fantastically successful. Reports of cross pollination between these GM crops and non-GM crops abound. GM crops are spreading their seed and breeding into non GM crops. Pesticides will not kill them. Estimates from various sources range from 70 percent to 85 percent of U.S. corn is now GM corn. Soybean, cotton, and sugar beet percentages are likewise high, if not higher. These crops are made into foods, fed to meat animals, milking animals, and laying animals. Biologically, they are hugely successful. These crops were supposed to produce better and more cheaply than unmodified crops. They were heralded as the solution to world hunger by their proponents and the companies that manufacture them. Clearly, they have not been as successful in this regard. And although, they are more resistant to pests than unmodified crops, as the pests evolve to deal with the pesticides used, so must the pesticide manufacturers modify their product. As always, Alice must keep running as fast as she can to stay in one place. Farmers now have new difficulties. Those that use GM crops have to buy new seed each year. They pay additional fees for the privilege to use patented seeds. Farmers that do not buy GM seed are confronted with the possibility of contamination and the threat of subsequent lawsuits from the companies that own the patents on the seeds! At least large percentages of these fields are soy (lysine rich!) and can be used to feed rogue dinosaurs. I would assume that genetically engineered dinosaurs do not so much mind GM soy…

Really, one cannot help but think that Malcolm was right when he said in the first movie, “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

To read the actual documents related to the proposed GE salmon: FDA Documents for AquAdvantage’s Genetically Engineered Atlantic Salmon

Views expressed here are the ideas and opinions of the bloggers at the OC Metro Farm and no one else.

  1. siobhan collier says:

    Good read, thanks for posting this!

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