Should we glow there?

Biotech entrepreneurs announced Friday that they have plans to market the world’s first genetically engineered pet: the GloFish, a fish that glows fluorescent red under a black light.

Yorktown Technologies told the Los Angeles Times that the GloFish will be available for consumers this January. Conservation and even food-safety groups are protesting the release of the GloFish. While it is understandable that these groups have concerns that genetically engineered animals could potentially throw the ecosystem off balance, the GloFish doesn’t appear to be an eminent threat.

The GloFish, which is a Zebra Fish that obtains its “glow” after being infused with genes from the IndoPacific sea anemone, has caused conservation groups to ask the federal government to intervene and halt the release of the fish to consumers. The GloFish, which will sell for around $5 each, are expected to produce sales in the millions.

Alan Blake, chief executive officer of Yorktown Technologies, told the Times that one concern the protesters have is, “What if this fish gets out and interbreeds with wild populations?” Blake said this worry is unfounded, as there are no wild populations of Zebra fish in the United States, despite being sold by the millions over the years. Regardless of the impression Finding Nemo may have left its audience with, fish that get flushed down the toilet are not sent right out to the ocean, at least not in one piece. Also, being that the GloFish appear bright red, they would become easy prey for predators.

While the GloFish may be the first genetically modified pet to be put on the market, others are being lined up for release. Another genetically altered pet researchers are working on is an allergen-free cat that could potentially allow people allergic to cats to enjoy their company. Yorktown Technologies, along with Segrest Farms and 5-D Tropical, have also stated their intent to release GloFish in other colors in the near future.

While these claims about the dangers of the GloFish may not have merit, it is imperative that the release of the GloFish does not serve as permission for bioengineers to produce and release more genetically engineered organisms that could pose more of a threat to the environment. As a collection of food-safety and conservation groups said in a letter to the Food and Drug Administration, “If the FDA somehow fails to regulate the proposal of Yorktown Technologies … it will set a precedent for all other (genetically engineered) fish producers, and the floodgates will almost literally be opened.”