To celebrate the anniversary of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of our AquAdvantage Salmon for commercial production and consumption, we are posting a series of articles that have appeared over the past year. The following was published in the Dec/Jan 2016 issue of Aquaculture Magazine.
One approach to the genetic improvement of aquatic organisms that has emerged as a discipline in its own right over the past two decades is transgenesis, the transfer of foreign genes into new hosts.
Transgenic fishes (or molluscs or crustaceans) can be defined as possessing within their chromosomal DNA, either directly or through inheritance, genetic constructs which have artificial origins. The key word for researchers, producers and even consumers here is within the chromosomal DNA: introduced constructs are incorporated into the target organism in such a way as to be expressed and passed along to subsequent generations.
The potential pay-offs for utilizing this type of technology in aquaculture are high: rapid, almost instantaneous gains in many types of important production traits such as growth, cold tolerance, or disease resistance may be possible. The potential problems, however, are also impressive: labor- and capital-intensive methodologies and consumer distrust of genetically engineered products in many nations. Another major constraint to the widespread adoption of transgenic stocks in aquaculture involves regulatory restrictions on stocking and culture of genetically modified organisms. Due to a lack of performance data, it is usually quite difficult to assess (or even speculate on) the potential impacts of genetically modified aquatic organisms on natural systems. As a result, resource managers, politicians and bureaucrats are reluctant to even attempt to develop protocols for the use of these organisms in situations where inadvertent releases could occur.
One (and probably the only) case study of transgenic organisms in aquaculture involves the company AquaBounty Technologies. In a press release dated November 19, the company announced that the FDA had approved the production, sale and consumption of its transgenic salmon. This approval was the result of many years of diligence and perseverance, and at many times in the process it seemed virtually unattainable. Jack A. Bobo, Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer at Intrexon, a US-based biotechnology company and Aquabounty’s main shareholder, stated “The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee encourages Americans to eat a wide variety of seafood —including wild caught and farmed— as part of a healthy diet rich in healthy fatty acids. However, this must occur in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner. FDA’s approval of the AquAdvantage Salmon is an important step in this direction.” Read the article.