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Nov 25, 2016

Genetically engineered fish and the strangeness of American salmon

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 and prior. The following article by Paul Greenberg appeared in The New Yorker

Sometime in the next few years, an entirely new fish will appear on American plates. After several decades of biotech research and a final upstream push past the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month, the AquaBounty AquAdvantage salmon, a genetically engineered species of fish, will go into commercial production. While modified plants like corn and soy abound in the American diet, this will mark the first time in history that an engineered animal has been approved for human consumption. The new fish’s genetic code is comprised of components from three fish: base DNA from an Atlantic salmon; a growth gene from a Pacific Chinook salmon; and a promoter, a kind of “on” switch for genes, from a knobby-headed eel-shaped creature called an ocean pout.

The salmon’s pathway to the market will involve a similarly complex formulation. The first phase of AquAdvantage production will take place in Canada, on Prince Edward Island. There, the all-female eggs will be rendered sterile through a pressure treatment. They will then be flown to Panama, where they’ll be hatched, raised to harvestable size, slaughtered, and imported into the U.S. as the familiar orange-hued fillets that Americans have come to prefer above all other types of fish. Though AquaBounty hopes that the costs of this circuitous route to market could be offset by the savings incurred from the fish’s rapid growth (the company claims that AquAdvantage reaches maturity in about half the time as unmodified fish), the company is hoping to eventually gain permission to farm the fish here at home. “In the longer run,” AquaBounty’s co-founder, Elliot Entis, wrote me in an e-mail, “the real payoff will be when inland recirculating facilities are built in the U.S.” Read the article.

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