What do you get when you cross an Atlantic salmon with a northern pike? We may soon find out, as the Atlantic salmon species is one step closer to having its genome fully sequenced.
Vancouver, BC-based Genome BC has partnered with the Chilean Economic Development Agency, InnovaChile, Norwegian Research Council, Norwegian Fishery and Aquaculture Industry Research Fund to form an international co-op to sequence the Atlantic salmon genome, and claim they are well underway on a multi-million dollar project that will identify and map all of the genes in the Atlantic salmon genome, and can act as a reference/guide sequence for the genomes of other salmonids, including Pacific salmon, rainbow trout and more distantly related fish such as smelt and pike.
Therein lies the problem. With a map of the genes of these fish, scientists may be able to “mix and match” to give certain genetically modified (GM) fish the attributes of certain other fish. Some pike, for example, have been recorded at 6 feet and more than 75 pounds. An Atlantic salmon modified with pike genomes could grow very large very quickly, offering better returns to fish farmers. Pike are voracious predators, however, and escapes could be even more damaging to the wild salmon stocks than escapes of the current farmed Atlantic salmon.
Several companies and public research institutions have been developing various transgenic fish. One of these is an Atlantic salmon with a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon that, according to Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies, provides the fish with the potential to grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon. The company says the US FDA is considering approval of its AquAdvantage® Atlantic salmon eggs, which would make the fish the first food from a transgenic animal application approved by the FDA. How will an escape of these “Frankenfish” affect local wild populations? No one knows, and that is no laughing matter.