Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pet Fish That Glow Under Black Light

Electric Green Tetras - a genetically-modified Blackskirt Tetra. Photo courtesy:

Who wouldn’t want a glow-in-the-dark pet fish? That’s exactly what Yorktown Technologies thought when they brought a genetically-modified pet fish called the GloFish to market in 2003.

The fluorescent fish, a modified version of the zebra fish, was undoubtedly popular, and as a result, this February Yorktown introduced the Electric Green Tetra fish, an altered version of the blackskirt Tetra fish. It’s a small freshwater fish that with the help of glowing coral genetic material, turns neon in black light, according to The Washington Post.

But environmentalists fear that these two fish (the GloFish [zebra fish] and the Electric Green Tetra [blackskirt tetras]) are actually much different than they seem because the Electric Green Tetra can survive in US waterways, particularly those in South Florida, while the GloFish (zebra fish) can only survive in southern Asia waters.

A Blackskirt tetra as they occur in nature. Photo courtesy:

“My worry is that they’ll be such a novelty that they will be imported back to [South America] and kids will let them go and they’ll start interbreeding with fish whose genomes are very similar,’’ said Barry Chernoff, a freshwater fish biologist and chair of the environmental studies program at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn on The Washington Post. “We would see the spreading of the fluorescent coral gene in the native fish.’’

Once people tire of their pets, many decide to set them free, which creates a huge problem in the wild, like in the case of the Burmese python in the South Florida. Yorktown’s CEO claims that the fish in question isn’t aggressive and rather vulnerable, so it’s not likely to become an invasive species. But researchers aren’t so sure.

“The neotropical region contains the most diverse freshwater fish fauna and complex freshwater ecosystem in the world, with some 6,025 fish species so far recognized,’’ Gordon McGregor Reid, chair of the Wetlands International Freshwater Fish Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said in an e-mail to The Washington Post. “We meddle with this at our peril.”

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