British aquarist bred illegal GM fish at home

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A Practical Fishkeeping reader has bred genetically modified 'glow-in-the-dark' fish that he purchased illegally from an aquarium shop in the UK.

The reader, who has asked us to preserve his anonymity, obtained the fluorescent GM fish from an unnamed UK retailer where they were being sold as Red danios.

He claims that the fish were imported into the UK from the Czech Republic, where they are being bred, after breeders there obtained brood stock smuggled in from Asia.

The reader believes that the fish are definitely genetically modified, and not dyed or colour-fed as previously suggested by some suppliers; something that one Czech breeder of the GM fish has confirmed from his images.

Our source told Practical Fishkeeping online: "Though not for the purist, they are indeed a very striking fish. The adults have not faded in colour since I got them some weeks ago. There is no difference in their colour at any time, even when spawning, when the same intense colour prevails.

"I have also spawned them and am raising a few, mainly to see what the offspring are like. The fry are still very small, but they do appear to have some red in them".

The Zebra danios, Danio rerio, contain a gene from a coral which produces Red Fluorescent Protein (RFP) which gives the fish a bright pink colour and causes them to fluoresce under UV lighting.

Contrary to early media reports when the fish were first introduced, the fish are not sterile, and with the exception of the additional gene, they are little different to commercially available Zebra danios.

The shop selling the fish had three varieties of genetically modified Zebra danio, including the standard striped form, a leopard variety and a long-finned strain.

DEFRA import ban on Red daniosAs a result of an investigation by Practical Fishkeeping which raised questions over the techniques used to produce Red danios, DEFRA officials this month warned aquarium fish dealers that they risked prosecution if fish they imported turned out to be genetically modified. (See Aquarium shops warned about potential GM fish).

Sarah Hugo, the Head of the GM Inspectorate said that until the results of DEFRA's investigations on the fish were available, fish importers should not import or trade in Red danios, or any other coloured or fluorescent danio varieties:

"The importation into, or the acquisition, release or marketing of any genetically modified (GM) organisms within the UK is prohibited unless a consent has been granted in accordance with Article 111 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990."

GM InspectoratePractical Fishkeeping spoke to Sarah Hugo, the Head of the GM Inspectorate, regarding the fish, and she said she was concerned about their sale:

"Readers of Practical Fishkeeping and all other individuals keeping tropical fish should be aware that the acquisition, release, import and marketing of unauthorised GMOs in the UK and in Europe is illegal.

No GM fish have been authorised within either the UK or the EU as a whole. To keep and breed fish while being aware that they are genetically modified is in breach of the law and I would urge all persons concerned to refrain from such activities.

"I would also request anyone who is aware of individuals or retailers involved in such activities to provide details to the GM Inspectorate at the Central Science Laboratory on 01904 462223 (email [email protected]), or the Fish Health

Inspectorate at Cefas Weymouth on 01305 206673/4 ([email protected]).

"Anyone who has inadvertently bought what they now believe to be GM fish can contact the GM Inspectorate or Fish Health Inspectorate for advice"

German GM fishLast week, German authorities confirmed that fish seized from dealers at an ornamental fish show in Kiel, were genetically modified. (See Illegal GM fish smuggled into Germany.)

German authorities believe that the fish had been smuggled into the country from Poland, and that the original stock had originated in Asia.

Our source claims that the fish in Germany probably originated from the Czech Republic.

His Czech Republic contact, who has bred the fish and confirmed the identity of those in the UK as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), claims that breeders there have thousands of the fish.

"Czech breeders have thousands of them and are desperately trying to sell them, as the fines in the Czech Republic are very heavy for keeping, breeding and selling them."

GloFishIn the USA, similar genetically modified fish are sold legally by Yorktown Technologies under the trademarked name of GloFish. (See The GloFish).

GloFish, which are covered by a patent which prevents others from selling them in the USA, were first bred in 2004 by another Practical Fishkeeping reader, Terry Wisener, shortly after they went on sale across the USA. (See Reader breeds GM fish.)

Alan Blake, the CEO of Yorktown Technologies, told Practical Fishkeeping that his company had worked very hard to responsibly manage the distribution of the fish in the USA and was very much opposed to the marketing of GM fish without the appropriate regulatory approval.

Blake said that the apparent flood of illicit GM fish was in no way connected to the sale of GloFish. Our sources indicated the fish had been smuggled into the Czech Republic from Asia, where they are legally sold in the Taiwanese aquarium trade.