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Genetically engineered salmon could make foods like this salmon nigiri more sustainable and affordable. Flickr

Fast-growing genetically engineered salmon approved

Developers of the fast-growing genetically engineered salmon first started the approval process with the United States (US) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1995. In 2019, we are a bit closer to having the option of buying this fish for ourselves, as the FDA clears the final regulatory hurdle to allow sale of AquAdvantage salmon.

In this article, learn how the salmon was created, what regulatory steps were completed, and about the health and environmental impacts of fast-growing genetically engineered salmon.

How were fast-growing GMO salmon created?

"Salmoneggskils" by en:User:Kils - en:Image:Salmoneggskils.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
Atlantic salmon eggs by Hoenny via Wikipedia.

Canadian researchers created the fast-growing genetically engineered salmon with a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and a gene promoter from ocean pout. They microinjected the transgene into fertilized eggs of wild Atlantic salmon, and characterized the insertion.

The resulting genetically engineered fish are ~99.99986% Atlantic salmon, with the addition of just 4,205 base pairs in a genome of 2.97 billion bases. Further, the growth hormone proteins from Chinook and Atlantic salmon are 95% identical. This leaves the ocean pout promoter as the only “new” element. The developers chose this promoter because genes it controls are continually expressing – always on – as opposed to the salmon promoter for growth hormone, which is only on in certain environmental conditions.

Even though the inserted growth hormone gene is always on, it doesn’t have much of an effect unless the fish have access to food. When allowed to eat as much as they want (fed to satiation), juvenile AquAdvantage salmon can grow nearly 3 times longer than conventional juvenile Atlantic salmon. But in a simulated natural environment with limited food, juvenile AquAdvantage salmon grew only a little larger than juvenile conventional salmon.

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