Chihuahua or glowing fish, which one is Frankenstein’s monster?

GloFish In one of the research talks I give I use the picture at the top-left to illustrate a point. It is of genetically modified (GM) fish. They are a species of fish you can buy in a pet shop. The fish are called zebrafish, Danio rerio to give them their latin name.

That is it. They are just like normal zebrafish only they have been genetically modified to make bright fluorescing proteins and so are brightly coloured. In the USA (except California) they are sold by the Glofish company as exotic pet fish, and you can buy them in pet shops. Now you can argue that genetically modifying fish to make them glow is a bit silly but really who cares. However, as GM organisms you cannot buy them in the UK, certainly not in pet shops. In the UK (indeed in the EU) GM organisms such as these glowing fish are very tightly regulated.

But are these regulations overkill? There are arguments for and against. But people sometime call GM plants and animals “frankenfoods”. I am not sure this is always fair. Glowing fish are not very scary. They are just like normal fish but more colourful (see the pretty videos). However, we have also genetically modified wolves into chihuahuas. Compare:

Lobo en el Zoo de Madrid 01 croppedChihuahua spodek 3 pl

Admittedly, it took us ten thousand years to do this and we did not use modern techniques for transferring genes. But consider that an adult chihuahua weighs about 2kg and yaps, wolves are 40 kg of pack hunting predator. The differences are due to different genes we have selected for in the chihuahua.

So, which should be banned from UK pet shops, chihuahuas or glowing zebrafish?