AquaBounty, a small company based in Maynard, Massachusetts, has been receiving a great deal of attention. That’s because AquaBounty is responsible for designing genetically engineered salmon that get bigger faster while helping the environment.
What Does It Mean to Genetically Engineer?
We genetically engineer an organism if we modify one or more of its genes. This is achieved by deleting, replacing, or adding a sequence of DNA in order to introduce new traits that would otherwise not manifest by itself. Genetically modified, however, is a term that refers to a much broader spectrum. Humans have genetically modified practically all organisms. GM refers to GE organisms and organisms that humans bred to create “better” offspring (e.g., dogs, horses, crops). The media often uses these terms interchangeably, but the official and more specific term (like those on ballots, etc.) for foods like the AquaBounty salmon is genetically engineered.
What Are Potential Risks of Genetically Engineered Salmon?
Although the FDA has cleared the salmon to be safe, it’s unknown whether people will have harmful reactions to it. Many argue that we cannot determine any serious consequences for the health of consumers because no law requires labels for GE food, making it difficult to track down. Another concern is the possibility that they can influence the general wild salmon population if they escape from their farms. This can be good or bad; we don’t know. AquaBounty’s argument is that because humans have overfished the ocean, their creation provides a better alternative.
Is AquaBounty Alone?
No. Several other companies such as Intrexon, which owns 60% of AquaBounty, are developing new ways to genetically engineer organisms for the better. Intrexon owns Oxitec, which is currently developing self-limiting mosquitoes that have the power to decrease the mosquito population. As biotech companies develop alternatives like GE salmon, it is important for consumers to stay educated on what they are eating and what is in their environment.