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We Need More Practice at Being Dummies

Years ago when my mother was in the hospital we met a nurse named Barb, who told us about one of her patients—Charlie. Upon leaving the hospital, Charlie presented Barb with a card that read “Official member of the Dummy Club – Member # 172.” Charlie explained that while most people think they know everything, Barb was a “dummy.” She knew that she did not know everything and was thus open to all possibilities. When Charlie finds open-minded people, he rewards them with membership in the dummy club.

Recently, I have been talking to many people about the FDA’s hearings on genetically modified salmon. I have not found many dummies. People’s opinions on genetically modified (GM) food are so diverse—and so rock solid.

I decided to take a novel approach. I actually read the FDA’s 180-page briefing packet on the AquAdvantage GM salmon. What I read was troubling. The safety studies have been done on a small population of fish.  Abnormalities such as elevated glucose (diabetes) and ectopic mineralization (forming bones and teeth in abnormal parts of the body) were discounted because of the small population of fish.  In addition, the FDA does not require animal and human feeding studies.  The studies are based solely on chemical analysis.

The biggest surprise in the briefing packet had to do with the breeding practices used to create the sellable fish. AquAdvantage consists of an infertile female population. How do they do that? Well, it is not like how your parent explained the birds and the bees to you. Here is a summary of the AquaBounty Technologies (the company developing GM fish) process supplied to the FDA:

  1. Select genetically-altered female salmon.
  2. Treat the sperm of male Arctic Char (a different species of fish) with radiation.
  3. Mix the irradiated sperm with eggs from the genetically-altered female salmon.
  4. The resulting genetically-altered female salmon are then treated with 17-methyl testosterone to grow male genitals and make sperm.
  5. These “NeoMale” fish are then killed. Their sperm is surgically removed and is used to fertilize eggs from conventional Atlantic Salmon.
  6. Fertilized eggs are then subjected to pressure shock treatment in order to render the offspring Triploid. A normal fish is Diploid. That means having two complete sets of chromosomes per cell. By pressure treating the eggs, the cells divide with an extra pair of chromosomes for a total of three sets. When I think about this I instantly visualize the three-eyed fish on “The Simpson’s.”

I aspire to be a dummy. I do not know anything about breeding fish. If the FDA approves it, I guess this process must be what the universe needs. Maybe “transsexual animal proteins” will become a fad—the new “gluten free.” If they do not approve it, well perhaps this human species in not as self destructive as they appear.

Every day brings new findings, new innovations, new breakthroughs, and new conversations. Sometimes the best action to take is to do nothing and to wait for that undeniable feeling of knowing. Take a moment and picture eating GM/hormone induced transgender/triploid fish. How does that make you feel?

Next time someone asks you about GMOs, salt, nanotechnology, organics, Salmonella, endocrine active plastic compounds, or if they should eat more broccoli, take a moment to watch yourself saying “I know that…” Now, you may find yourself pondering the question “maybe I don’t know?” If you practice regularly, maybe someday Charlie will make you a member of the dummy club.

Jeff Bogusz
IFT member since 1989

3 Responses

  1. Thanks for digging into the report to find the way they “make” the fast growing salmon. Now more than ever I want to know how the fish that I buy at the Supermarket was produced. If I want to take the risk that is my decision. I just need that the fish be clearly labelled. By the way as it stands now I would rather buy non-genetically engineered fish, even if I have to pay more for it!

  2. The process you describe for creating the GM salmon is not the one I heard. It is not clear to me how this would produce a faster growing fish. I understood that they were inserting a gene from Chinook salmon that turned on the growth hormone. This process seems more logical for the production of faster growing salmon.

  3. Garth,

    We are talking about the same fish. Step one in the breeding process is to select a GM female salmon. This has the Chinook growth hormone plus an Ocean Pout gene and two artificial genes that are intended to turn on the growth hormone gene. The rest of the AquAdvantage breeding process is to get at least 95% infertile fish. This reduces the chance of breeding when a fish escapes and protects the companies intellectual property from being copied.

    Here is the link to the FDA briefing packet if you would like more detail.



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