Archived news articles - 2004

The Straits Times, 25 February 2004
By Chang Ai-Lien

GloFish sparks off classroom study in US
Genetically modified pet fish from Singapore used to help undergraduates understand transgenic technology.

THE world's first genetically engineered pet fish is doing more than lighting up fish tanks in the United States.

The made-in-Singapore fluorescent fish is beginning to help some university students there understand transgenic technology better.

To its creator, Associate Professor Gong Zhiyuan of the National University of Singapore, the mutant zebrafish is a mascot for the potential benefits of genetic modification.

He believes that the fish, which has been sold commercially in the US since last month, could become a popular option for the study of transgenic animals.

More than 700 biology undergraduates at Oregon State University are doing research on the fish.

To him, this is far more exciting than the profits which the fish are bringing him as aquarium pets.

'This is exactly what I'd hoped for when I created the fish.

'As the first marketed transgenic fish, it will be an excellent model to help students and even the public understand transgenic technology and biotechnology as a whole,' said Prof Gong, who is with the university's department of biological sciences.

Aptly named the GloFish, the 2.5cm creature, which normally sports silver and black stripes, can be made to glow red, green, orange and yellow with the help of jellyfish and anemone genes.

Oregon State bought close to 100 GloFish and normal zebra danios, said the university's paper, The Daily Barometer.

The aim is to familiarise general biology students with the principles of genetics, natural selection and evolution, and animal behaviour, among other things.

Though the GloFish is not sold here - local companies have not moved to get the special approval required for genetically modified products - it seems to be getting popular in the US.

Texas-based Yorktown Technologies, which bought the rights to commercialise the fish from NUS for an undisclosed sum, claims to have sold tens of thousands of GloFish at US$5 (S$8.50) each since they went on sale.

Pet shops have reported mixed reviews, with some saying sales are good, and others saying the relatively high cost has deterred buyers.

Not everyone is enamoured of the fish, though.

Sales were banned in California after critics raised ethical concerns about the bioengineered pet.

But Prof Gong maintains that the genetic manipulation of the fish is no different from what farmers and breeders have been doing for years to produce different traits in animals and crops.

He believes that the GloFish is a first step towards acceptance of a wide range of other transgenic products in the pipeline, including fast-growing fish and hardy crops, he said.

He added: 'I hope that the GloFish will teach people to understand rather than fear the technology, and help them become more confident in biotechnology products.'

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