Organic Consumers Association

Frankenfish on Sale in Taiwan

``We spent NT$100 million (US$2.9 million) developing this fish,'' Kuo said, defending the retail price.

Taiwan Shopkeepers Unveil 'Frankenfish'

..c The Associated Press

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) - Their weird glowing green color makes them look like they've been swimming in a nuclear plant's spent fuel pond.

But the zebra fish on sale in Taipei shops have an even stranger background: They're the latest in genetically modified fish, and their bodies contain DNA from jellyfish, making them shimmer in the dark.

Shopkeepers call the modified zebras ``Night Pearls.'' Some have nicknamed them ``Frankenfish,'' but their makers at the Taipei-based Taikong Corp. use the less catchy name of ``TK-1'' for the world's first genetically engineered fluorescent fish.

They've been on the market in Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and Malaysia for about three months, said Bill Kuo, a spokesman for Taikong, which owns a chain of pet stores.

The fish are expected to swim into the U.S. market later this month and, beginning in August , the company expects to produce more than 100,000 a month, Kuo said.

So far, only the greenish TK-1 has been on sale. But next year, the fish should get the company of a red mate, the TK-2, and later the two colors will be combined in the TK-3, Kuo said.

``The original zebra fish are all colorless,'' he said.

Not everyone is satisfied with the genetic engineering.

``It must be really dark to see it,'' said Maria Hung, who offers the glowing fish for sale at her Goldfish Family store in Taipei.

The fish flit so quickly they come out as blobs in photographs. And at about $17 each, they don't come cheap. At Hung's shop, the goldfish in the next bowl cost only about $0.29 apiece.

``Since I started selling the fluorescent fish last month, I haven't found a single buyer,'' she said.

Taikong says its project is still in its infancy.

``We spent NT$100 million (US$2.9 million) developing this fish,'' Kuo said, defending the retail price.

He said Taikong was aware some people might fear the genetically modified animals would harm the environment or grow into uncontrollable ``Frankenstein pets.'' Thus it took extra precautions in developing the fish
- for instance, ensuring they cannot produce offspring.

At an Azoo store - a chain that's part of Taikong's operation - a clerk pulled a curtain to darken a corner of the shop in Taipei's upscale Asiaworld Plaza mall. Then she switched on a blue light above the tank and the fish became visible, silvery bodies crowned by a greenish glow.

Kuo noted that admiring fluorescent fish in the dark is an acquired taste.

``It's still a curiosity,'' he said. ``We're covering new territory here.''

07/16/03 09:16 EDT

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