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GM Salmon Can Breed with Wild Fish and Pass On Genes

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page and our Genetic Engineering page.

The potential risks of genetically modified fish escaping into the wild have been highlighted in a new study.

Scientists from Canada have found that transgenic Atlantic salmon can cross-breed with a closely related species - the brown trout.

The fish, which have been engineered with extra genes to make them grow more quickly, pass on this trait to the hybrid offspring.

The research is published the Proceedings of the Royal Society B..

However, the biotech company AquaBounty, which created the salmon, said any risks were negligible as the fish they were producing were all female, sterile and would be kept in tanks on land.

The transgenic salmon are currently being assessed by the US authorities, and could be the first GM animals to be approved for human consumption.

Salmon-trout hybrids

In the wild, Atlantic salmon very occasionally mate with the brown trout, successfully producing offspring.

But the researchers found that in the laboratory, the genetically modified salmon could do the same. Of the 363 fish analysed at the start of the experiment, about 40% of the hybrids carried the modified genes.

The researchers found that these young fish developed extremely quickly.

Dr Darek Moreau, from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, said: "[Under hatchery conditions] the transgenic hybrids grew faster than the wild salmon, wild trout and wild-type hybrids. The GM hybrids also outgrew the GM salmon." 
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