Editorial: Genetic Modification Taken to Another Disturbing Level With Fluorescent Pet Fish

Kyla Giffin | Cowboy Life Editor, Galleria Editor

Photo Credit: Kyla Giffin

When I was a child, and my father and I made trips to the pet store, I would walk in through the sliding glass doors, greet the chatty birds and staring amphibians, stop by and pet the furry, beady-eyed creatures, then finally, find myself amongst the fish.

The pet store was a bit of a magical experience for me. Perhaps because it’s as if someone took a tiny bit of nature and put it right at your fingertips, not just to see up close, but to feel, and to hold. However, the disturbing nature of pet stores, similar to that of zoos, and how it shows the tendency for possession as a human need, is apparent. But when do we reach the point where people are trying to possess things that shouldn’t even be there in the first place?

A little over a month ago, I made a trip to the relatively new Pet Supplies Plus on Arroyo Vista. After years of going to Pet Extreme at that location, which the aforementioned pet store chain bought, I still expected to find the features that had dazzled me so much when I was younger.

Photo Credit: Kyla Giffin

But the rabbits were gone, the hamsters were in glass containers and not regular cages, and the birds and amphibians had been moved to the back, out of view, the former in smaller quantities than before. However, the most surprising change was found when I approached the fish section and saw a tank lit by a blue light, and filled with neon-colored fish. Looking down at the price tags, I was taken aback. These fish not only had such witless names as Cosmic Blue and Galactic Purple, but they were also part of a brand. That brand is GloFish.

As their website will tell you, GloFish are “fluorescent fish” that “are not injected or dyed” and “inherit their harmless, lifelong color from their parents.” In other words, this is a brand of genetically modified fish. They come in six colors, each more frivolous than the last: “Starfire Red, Electric Green, Sunburst Orange, Cosmic Blue, Galactic Purple, and Moonrise Pink.”

GloFish have been available in the United States since 2003, though, so maybe it’s not such a shock. After all, scientists in South Korea created glow-in-the-dark cats in 2007. And cabbages have been altered to have scorpion poison in their leaves.These advances, if you can call them that, have been happening right under our noses.

Although these fluorescent fish are not natural, there do exist biofluorescent fish, which rely on the light they take in, then release, belonging to waters untouched by sunlight. By this means, it is necessary for survival. But what purpose can there be for the existence of creatures such as glowing pet fish?

Photo Credit: The New York Times

According to GloFish, while the fish sold are for pleasure, part of the proceeds from their purchase goes towards research for fish whose fluorescence, rather than being entirely permanent, would be triggered by pollution in the environment. Other genetically modified plants and animals have similar explanations in how their invention is progressive in some way.

For genetically altered goats whose milk contains a protein from spider webs, the protein is used to make a material called Biosteel, seen in things like shoes, bags, and automobiles. Sudden-death mosquitoes die before they reach the age of sexual maturity, in an effort to decrease their numbers, and the threat of malaria. The cabbages mentioned before contain venom from the tails of scorpions in order to prevent them from being eaten by caterpillars, though it is said that this venom is of no danger to humans.

Photo Credit: Kyla Giffin

From a close perspective, it may appear that there is no danger in such creations of science. In fact, it may appear that they are actually quite beneficial.

But it is too often disregarded that all actions have their consequences, even if they are not visible at first. For instance, if the leaves of cabbages release poison in an effort to deter caterpillars, then the inevitable effect would be this technique being used in other plants. Before long, many insects and bugs would begin dying from starvation, majorly upsetting the system of the natural world. Without insects, not only would other animals die off, but an unhealthy environment full of undecomposed material would result.

As for fluorescent pet fish, the detrimental possibilities are far from inconceivable. First off, a major difference between sales of GloFish and regular fish is bound to occur, and is occurring, due to the physically attractive qualities of the former. GloFish are the beginning of a lessening popularity for pets that lack any genetic modification, which would prompt less deliveries and breeding of those particular animals, and smaller quantities of them in the world.

Photo Credit: Kyla Giffin

Eventually, a global obsession with unnatural creatures would lead to the extinction of several natural ones. Already, this can be seen at Pet Supplies Plus, where merely three GloFish remained in their tank, a month after there had been a tankful of them, while their less fanciful and less expensive neighbors occupied their mini aquariums in larger numbers.

But what’s also concerning is the connection between GloFish and the glow-in-the-dark cats from South Korea, as well as compared to glow-in-the-dark rabbits from Turkey.

Amanda Holpuch, of The Guardian, reported an associate professor from the University of Hawaii named Stefan Moisyadi, involved in the creation of the litter of rabbits that glow green in the dark, saying,  “The final goal is to develop animals that act as barrier reactives to produce beneficial molecules in their milk that can be cheaply extracted, especially in countries that can not afford big pharma plants that make drugs.”

As for the cats, the Mother Nature Network’s Laura Moss said,  “Scientists say the ability to engineer animals with fluorescent proteins will enable them to artificially create animals with human genetic diseases.”

The connection here? A blatant disrespect for nature, and disregard for animals as living beings.

But overall, something else connects every aforementioned situation.

Photo Credit: glofish.com

Why do we observe nature through cages with price tags attached? Why are we drawn to all things aesthetically appealing? Why do we continue to challenge nature by producing animals and plants further and further detached from the natural world? The answer: a human need for identity through power and instant gratification. To have things immediately available to us, and not merely available, but owned by us, and to have these things reflect who we are. Perhaps it is the only way people know how to deal with the insecurity of having a lack of control. But not everything is in our hands. And if you fight against nature, nature will always win.

But there will always be someone who continues to do so anyways, because, in the the end, GloFish was right about one thing: “Some people are never satisfied.”

Header Credit: Kyla Giffin

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