GMO NOMS: Here fishy fishy fishy...

Anastasia over at Biofortified has a post up on the science behind the GMO salmon recently submitted to the FDA.

Risk assessment and mitigation of AquAdvantage salmon

Hehehe, its interesting to see where the luddites/technophobes got the 'DER BE ANTIFREEZE GENES IN DEM DAR FISHIES!' I thought they were just pulling that one straight out of their asses, but its from the same line of 'reasoning' where they got 'DER BE CANKER VIRUS GENES IN DEM DAR TOMAHTOOS!!'


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I don't see a problem in this, once they inevitable escape we just grew 20 ft blue fin tuna to feed on those which we control with the 40 ft great white sharks which we control with Steven Spielberg.

Yes, yes, let's all be afraid of the sterile salmon growing in tanks high in the Panamanian mountains. Clearly they are one storm away from walking into the ocean.

I'm not totally crazy about GMO foods, but these people really do seem to have put good thought into how to not destroy the environment. It's better than other "farm" raised salmon. It's almost as good as the catfish farming down south.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 19 Oct 2010 #permalink

Too bad farmed salmon, whether GMO or non-GMO, is a wasteful and basically unsustainable food source that, among other things, uses up more edible protein than it produces.

Isn't that the case for any meat production Mr. Creek?

I'm all for genetically modified food - but that Biofortified risk assessment article does seem to gloss over and misdirect in some cases.

They talk about how the salmon is sterile (which was picked up by JustaTech) .. but if you look at the figures they quote it is clear that like any real word process it isn't infallible: 1.1% of the salmon aren't sterile triploids.

Why does that matter? Because of how it feeds into their calculations.

Their own estimates demonstrate that, given reasonable estimates of containment failure rates, the likelihood of escape of a given fish is less than 1%.

At the end of their calculations they conclude that "The possibility that one diploid AquAdvantage salmon would escape from the facility and survive climactic, physical, and ecological barriers is extremely unlikely, amounting to less than 0.01% of all fish reared or 1 fish in 10,000"

Is that trivial? What they overlook is that unless the fish farm aims to go bankrupt they'll be farming a few million fish a year. (Say 2 million for the sake of argument) That means that their own calculations suggest that about 200 diploid salmon will escape and survive every year !!!!

That certainly isn't trivial. I'm sure those numbers are too high for day-to-day operation ... but those are the numbers in the risk assessment that is linked to. It seems bizarre that they didn't spot this huge error - dismissing a risk as being for '1 in X users' and ignore the fact that you have > X users is a mistake in Risk Analysis 101.

Another factor is that these risks aren't random - it is like me spilling coffee on my keyboard. I might only spill 200 drops per year ... but you can guarantee that when it happens they'll all be split at once rather than randomly sprinkled at odd times throughout the year.

That is significant because the article also argue the odds of another salmon being available in the rivers to breed with is tiny ... but that argument only applies if the odds of two salmon escaping are independent of each other ... which is clearly wrong. So another mistake.


I'm all in favour of genetically modified food - but the numbers in this report don't seem to support the conclusion. I suspect the numbers are wrong ... but how could someone write the article with these glaring errors?

I think it's wise when dealing with *commercial* stocks of living organisms to assume they *will* eventually make it into the wild and breed; and assess the risk from that point forward. One dam break, hurricane, disgruntled/drunk/psychotic employee, lax adherence to SOPs, etc and the cat's out of the bag anyway. (Fla is now the home of a wild population of Asian Anacondas from "pets" liberated after a series of hurricanes.)

The fish apparently now have a constitutively active promoter controlling the GH gene. I suspect an equivalent mutation arises every now and then on the native gene in the natural population. So the fact that these fish got it the GMO way (as opposed to the organic natural way) isn't really the issue.

I have no issues with the GM part - what gets me is the idea that you can contain it with engineering controls. Sure that sounds good on paper, as long as it's a well funded operation, where their spawning ponds are well covered with nets to keep out predators, the filters are regularly cleaned and there's always plenty of chlorine to treat the effluent.
Now, in reality, 10 years from now it will be you standard industrial operation, in prime salmon habitat (that's conveniently empty right now of competing local salmon and of commercial fishermen who'd notice the strange fish), in an area routinely hit by hurricanes that can flood your eggs out of the ponds before they get treated (since the eggs are treated after fertilization). And all eggs will be 100% safely transported all the way from Canada to Panama, with no leaky containers, no traffic accidents, no "those are dead, just dump the barrel" where yes, 99% of the eggs were bad, lucky the 1% are unlikely to survive.

But where would these escapees breed? Salmon return to their freshwater breeding grounds (a small percentage of wild salmon pioneer new creeks) but what are the odds of a GMO salmon who is able to breed, survive outside of the containment, and pioneer a creek that has a viable salmon population of its own?

I don't know but that seems pretty tiny odds. Maybe someone here can shed light on that.

Anyway the real issue is to get the human population down--quit producing sprogs, you morons!

By FrankenFish (not verified) on 20 Oct 2010 #permalink

Just grow these Atlantic Salmon on the west coast. There have been active attempts to introduce Atlantics to the Pacific before, and all failed. This will cut down the probability that, even after all containment strategies fail, the escapee will survive & reproduce.

References in the link, from the last time this was discussed.…

*facepalm* There are antifreeze genes in almost any plant that can survive below -5 C...

By theshortearedowl (not verified) on 20 Oct 2010 #permalink

Mac -

OK, let's assume that 200 fertile GMO salmon would escape every year, all at once. Is there any rational reason to think that would harm either the wild salmon population or the environment in general?

Perhaps there are some, and if you know of any I'll be very interested, but I can't think of any.

According to the article, all the fish will be female. So escapees couldn't establish colonies by themselves. At most, they could interbreed with wild male salmon. That would introduce the consititutive GH construct into the wild gene pool, but so what? The data (apparently) indicate that it's a detrimental trait in the wild, so it's very unlikely to become fixed in the population. Moreover, as Divalent points out, natural mutations leading to consitutive GH expression are essentially certain to occur in the wild from time to time.

I suppose one could worry that the rDNA construct has additional traits, unrelated to GH expression and unrecognized to date. I'll grant that it's theoretically possible, but the likelihood that such traits exist and that they'd cause significant harm to wild populations is infinitesimal, IMO.

My overall point being that there's so much emphasis on "Oh my God, we have to make sure these things can't escape into the wild!" As if it's obvious that would be a Very Bad Thing. In fact, that's not obvious at all.

As if it's obvious that would be a Very Bad Thing. In fact, that's not obvious at all.

Didn't you get The Memo?! All GMO foods turn into Velociraptors once they escape into the wild. Why do you want Velociraptor Salmon running free in the Heartland, eating our best and brightest young'uns for their delicious delicious amino acids?

Numbers of escapees don't matter, the whole Africanized bee thing started with less than 20 females.

I'd like to see salmon with apple wood chips for scales. I could just pop them into the smoker and turn up the heat!

While your at it, how about mesquite and hickory salmon?

The data (apparently) indicate that it's a detrimental trait in the wild, so it's very unlikely to become fixed in the population. Moreover, as Divalent points out, natural mutations leading to consitutive GH expression are essentially certain to occur in the wild from time to time.

Yes - there's a model suggesting sexual selection for a GM allele for large size could drive a population to extinction if it's detrimental for survival, but in that case, why hasn't that already happened as a result of natural mutations?

"Too bad farmed salmon, whether GMO or non-GMO, is a wasteful and basically unsustainable food source that, among other things, uses up more edible protein than it produces."

I just can't find the liquefied chicken guts, industrially macerated rancid sardine heads or buckets of festering krill that used to make holidays so special.

Damn greedy frankensalmon!

By Prometheus (not verified) on 20 Oct 2010 #permalink

Thanks for the link Anastasia. Apart from the differences between the model fish and salmon, I agree that it's strange to claim that GMO introgression will result in extinction. If they had said "releasing faster growing fish may increase the risk of extinction in some circumstances", that would be one thing. (And is already happening with non-GMO salmon.)

Windy, isn't that sad? There's been quite a few papers showing that large scale releases of hundreds of farmed fish into wild populations can have a negative impact on genetic diversity of the wild population, making them less able to adapt to environmental variation. But I think everyone's so distracted by OMG scary GMOs that they aren't noticing the real concerns around us. I'm not sure what to do about that.