SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
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China science

The giant transgenic Chinese carp that could leap from lab to dinner table

Species still confined to the laboratory and researchers will need years of data from large-scale experiments, scientist says

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 December, 2016, 9:46am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 12:53pm

Chinese researchers who created a rapidly growing “giant” transgenic carp have expressed cautious optimism it will one day land on dining tables.

The fish, dubbed guanli (crown carp) by its creators, was shown to the public during an international life science conference in Beijing in November.

“The enormous crown carp caught the audience’s attention,” Professor Hu Wei, a lead scientist in the research conducted at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Wuhan-based Institute of Hydrobiology, wrote in an article on the academy’s website.

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The transgenic carp could grow to adult size twice as fast as common carp, he wrote. And it ate almost everything, from microorganisms to grass, and would thus be easy to grow in a fish farm.

The researchers mixed the genes of a fast-growing, grass-eating carp with an omnivorous species to create the traits.

The transgenic species was first created in the 1980s, according to information on the institute’s website. In the following decades the research team conducted biosecurity investigations that concluded the transgenic species was as safe to eat as natural carp species.

They also developed a way to make the transgenic carp’s offspring infertile, reducing the environmental risk if the alien species escaped into nature. They called the infertile species jili (lucky carp).

From a scientific point of view, the transgenic carp species was ready for commercialisation, Hu wrote.

The institute signed a contract with Dahu Aquaculture, one of the biggest freshwater product suppliers in China, in July with a view to accelerating the commercialisation of crown and lucky carp.

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The Hunan-based company said plans for large-scale experimental breeding were still awaiting final approval from the Ministry of Agriculture.

Last year, the United States’ Food and Drug Administration approved the world’s first transgenic fish, AquaBounty Technologies’ “AquAdvantage” salmon, for sale without the need for additional labelling, prompting protests from environmentalists.

Professor Gao Guang, a freshwater ecologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, said a common concern was that a rapidly growing, eat-anything transgenic species would pose a threat to the natural environment.

The sudden arrival of an alien species – especially an artificially created one – in a natural body of water would inevitably disturb the existing ecosystem, affecting all the other creatures, from worms in the sediment to other carp, he said.

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But the transgenic carp species remained confined to the laboratory and researchers still needed to spend years collecting data from large-scale experiments, Gao said. And even if the government approved their commercialisation, the fish would be confined to special aquatic farms with barriers preventing their escape into nature.

“There is no need to panic,” he said.