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Weird Facts About Genetically Engineered Salmon

An AquAdvantage salmon behind a non-transgenic Atlantic salmon sibling of the same age. i i

hide captionAn AquAdvantage salmon behind a non-transgenic Atlantic salmon sibling of the same age.

Courtesy of AquaBounty Technologies
An AquAdvantage salmon behind a non-transgenic Atlantic salmon sibling of the same age.

An AquAdvantage salmon behind a non-transgenic Atlantic salmon sibling of the same age.

Courtesy of AquaBounty Technologies

Experts are meeting outside Washington to give advice to the Food and Drug Administration on whether the agency should OK sales of a genetically engineered supersalmon that grows bigger and faster than normal Atlantic salmon.

NPR's April Fulton laid out the issues on Monday's Morning Edition. From the regulators' point of view the big questions are whether the food is safe to eat and whether it's safe for the environment grow fish like these.

What should you know? Well, the fish, according to the agency's analysis, appear safe for us to eat and to grow. But there are some details we can't quite shake.

Chinook Connection: The inventors of the genetically engineered fish took a gene for growth hormone from the Pacific's Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), the biggest salmon around, and spliced it into the DNA of the Atlantic species (Salmo salar).

Ocean pout

hide captionWaiter, there's an ocean pout in my salmon!

Wikimedia Commons

Ocean Pout: These pretty cool fish, literally, produce a protein that acts like antifreeze in the blood, letting them thrive in icy waters. The inventors of the genetically engineered fish took some of the genetic code that acts as a switch for the pout's antifreeze machinery and put it in their salmon to keep the growth hormone on.

The ocean pout is an ugly fish only its mother or an ice cream maker could love. A version of the antifreeze protein produced by genetically engineered yeast is OK by the FDA to prevent ice crystals from forming in ice cream. So you may already be familiar with the fish, even if you don't like seafood.

Only Girls Allowed: If the new genetic material in the salmon wasn't enough to get your attention, we have to point out that the AquAdvantage salmon the FDA will be reviewing come in only one sex — female. Oh, and they'll also have three sets of chromosomes, making them sterile.

After all of this the fish aren't supposed to taste strange or be different when it comes to nutrition. But some people opposed to the genetically altered fish worry that the changes could make them more prone to causing allergies in people who eat them.

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