Genetically modified fish could help solve worldwide food crisis

This heavily-muscled monstrosity is a rainbow trout that has been genetically modified by scientists in an effort to boost the output of fish farms worldwide.

While it took radiation exposure to turn Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk, in this case scientists had to manipulate fish eggs with DNA to get the fish to develop ‘six packs’ and ‘shoulders’ as they piled on 20 per cent more muscle mass than normal fish.

Staff and students at the University of Rhode Island, in Massachusetts, US, spent 500 hours injecting 20,000 rainbow trout eggs with DNA and, of those that hatched, 300 grew into mutated fish carrying the gene that led to extra growth.  You can watch a video of genetically modified trout on the University's website.

Those fish have since spawned and their offspring found to carry the same genes.

“Our findings are quite stunning,” said URI professor of fisheries and aquaculture Terry Bradley.

“The results have significant implications for commercial aquaculture and provide completely novel information on the mechanisms of fish growth. The results also allow for comparisons between the mechanisms of muscle growth in mammals versus fish, and could shed light on muscle-wasting diseases in humans,” he added.

Around 500,000 tonnes of farm-reared rainbow trout are raised in the US and Europe every year and it is hoped research like this will help increase output and meet the ever-increasing demand for food.

However, the questions on most anglers’ lips will be whether such GM-modified fish are safe and whether their escape into the wild could pose a threat to naturalised fish populations. And then there are those anglers who will be wondering whether a muscle-bound super-fish might offer a better sporting experience than their normal cousins. But leading fisheries management expert Dr Bruno Broughton believes the negatives far outweigh the positives.

“I am sure most anglers will share my unease about this development. Visually, the bloated fish look most unnatural, and there will be very valid questions about their welfare and their ability to behave normally,” he said.

“At this stage it is impossible to predict whether or not such fish will ever be swimming in lakes and rivers in the UK. This would raise additional and serious concerns about the capability of such fish to interbreed with native stocks and contaminate the genetic integrity of indigenous species,” he added.