A Plate of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Tomorrow on 19 September 2010, the FDA’s Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee will discuss and evaluate the safety, effectiveness, and environmental impact on the first genetically engineered (GE) Atlantic salmon called AquAdvantage from AquaBounty Technologies Inc. based in Waltham, MA.  So far, major news sources reported in an optimistic tone that AquAdvantage will receive recommendation from the panel.

Good: A New Biotechnology Makes Salmons Grow Bigger and Faster

With increasing growth of human population and unpredictable natural disasters on earth, there is an awareness of possible depletion of food source from the land and the sea in the future.  Since the inception of the recombinant DNA technology in the 70s, its variety of applications has benefited many industries like medicine, agriculture, and science, with humans being the biggest beneficiaries.  AquaBounty introduced a single copy of a continuously expressing growth hormone transgene into a salmon egg to produce triploid hemizygous all-female Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar).  Therefore, growth hormone was produced all year round, boosting the growth rate and mass of the GE salmons.  To ultimately resolve the decrement of naturally produced seafood, genetically engineered animals could offer a hope and solution.

Bad: Competition Between Nature vs Man-made

From the business point of view, for those whose livelihood rely on what the ocean can offer are concerning the competition brought by man-made fish, theoretically unlimited supply.

Ugly: We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know About GM Food

Speaking of genetically modified (GM) food, several of my colleagues reacted with doubts of potential unknown harm to the human population and environment.  Although there are strict FDA regulations of where and how the GE salmons can be cultured and distributed, a Nature News reader, Anurag Chaurasia of the National Bureau of Agriculturally Important Microorganisms in India, suggests:

“FDA should conduct SAFOTEST (by feeding GM fish to experimental animals) for few years followed by voluntary human trial before giving OK to transgenic fish.  There are always chance of cross breeding between GM & wild fish.  More ever in biology it is not always 1+1=2, some may not be triploid.  FDA should not be in a hurry in such sensitive issue otherwise GMOs like opposition may have to be faced.”

There are also other concerns about food allergy or increased cancer risk from consuming a large amount of GE food.  So the post-market data collection and analysis has to be implemented to allow us understand the potential hazard (or lack of) of GE food.

Until next post, keep on reading and writing!!