GM salmon's hybrid offspring may harm the ecosystem: Study

A new study carried out by a team of researchers from Canada has revealed the link between the introduction of GM (genetically modified) fishes into the wild, and damages to the ecosystem.

GM salmons, in particular, when let out into the wild, tend to mate with the closely-related brown trout species, which then produce a hybrid fish. While the GM salmon grow faster than a normal salmon would, its hybrid offspring grows even faster, thereby out-competing the existing species for their food.

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study demonstrating transmission and ecological consequences from interspecific hybridization between a GM animal and a naturally hybridizing species," Dr Krista Oke, who led the work at the department of biology at McGill University in Quebec, Canada, said.

A mock study done in the laboratory further confirmed this speculation; the hybrid offsprings took up a majority of the available food, which then led to a stunted growth in the numbers of the GM salmons and the wild salmons.

"This was likely a result of competition for limited food resources," Dr. Darek Moreau, from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, explained.

This work, which is now published in the journal Proceedings of The Royal Society B, warns the researchers regarding the upheaval in the ecosystem balance that these GM salmons could bring.

While genetically modified plants and animals do have many benefits and lesser disadvantages, there are certain not-so-known effects.

"If this advantage is maintained in the wild, transgenic hybrids could detrimentally affect wild salmon populations," Dr. Oke suggested.

The biotechnological company AquaBounty, which created these GM salmon, claims that there won't be any potential damage to the ecosystem with the introduction of these fishes as the company would be producing all female and sterile fishes which would be kept in tanks on the land. These transgenic animals are currently undergoing an assessment by the US authorities, which will finally reveal the verdict as to whether these GM fishes are safe for human consumption.

Looks like, as far as AquaBounty is concerned, the ecosystem will be safe; but then, only time can tell for sure. 

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