Archived news articles - 2003

The Straits Times, 21 July 2003
By Chang Ai-Lien, Science Correspondent

Little green fish
These glow-in-the-dark ricefish - from the genetics lab, not outer space - are set to be sold here

GLOWING green fish have hit Singapore shores, and could soon be swimming into aquariums here.

If approved, the hardy ricefish, which contain glow-in-the-dark jellyfish fluorescence genes, could become the first genetically modified (GM) animals on sale here.

The animal's creators, Taipei-based pet store chain Taikong Corporation, say that the fish, named TK-1, have been on the market in Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and Malaysia for about three months.

A local dealer says they are likely to make their debut here in a week.

Several hundred of the hardy fish, which can survive in salt or fresh water, are being brought in by aquarium supplies wholesaler Adec Trading and Services, the sole distributor for Taikong products here. They will be sold at about 300 aquarium outlets here once the go-ahead is given, said Mr John Koo, Adec's managing director.

The fish are also expected to enter the United States market later this month, and Taikong said it will be producing more than 100,000 of the fish monthly.
So far, only the neon-green version has been put on sale. But later versions will include a genetically modified (GM) red fish and a fish with both green and red coloration.

Taikong stressed the fish on sale have been made sterile to prevent them from contaminating the environment.

When contacted, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), which is in charge of tropical fish imports, said such fish must be declared and, like all GM products arriving here, have to be assessed by the Genetic Modification Advisory Committee, the national watchdog for GM organisms.

Anyone who imports or possesses such organisms without proper consent can be fined up to $10,000 and jailed for a year.

'The biggest concern is that these fish must have no chance to affect our ecosystem if they are released into the wild,' said AVA spokesman Goh Shih Yong.

Singapore researchers were among the world's first to come up with transgenic zebrafish three years ago, and the transparent fish were made to glow red, green, yellow and orange with fluorescence genes from jellyfish and sea anemones.

But The Straits Times understands that these have yet to be produced on a large scale commercially.

Meanwhile, Mr Koo said he has been inundated with calls from suppliers and buyers, all eager to get their hands on the fish, which will be sold for about $9 each, up to 30 times the cost of its natural cousin.

'There's nothing they will do to harm the environment,' he said.

Added Adec director Gan Li Lian: 'Unlike dye-injected fish, these colours don't fade, and they don't hurt the fish.'

But the reception elsewhere has not been all warm, and some countries and states have banned them outright.

Frankenfish, as critics label them, could squeeze out their wild cousins, driving them to extinction through interbreeding, or by eating them.

Madam Pauline Teo, vice-president of Ornamental Fish International, a worldwide organisation representing all sectors of the ornamental aquatic industry, said such products could do the local fish trade more harm than good.

'There are strong lobbies against such fish overseas... If Singapore begins exporting them, we could well be blacklisted from the tropical fish market, and that would mean losing out on a big chunk of business.'

Copyright @ 2003 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.

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