Genetically Modified Fish Detect BPA

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Issue 1: Bisphenol-A (BPA). It’s the estrogen mimicking chemical that leaches out from plastic. It has been linked to early onset of puberty, diabetes and a host of other health problems.

Issue 2: Genetically modified organisms. There are enough reasons to dislike genetically modified organisms. They can be invasive to native species and non-GM crops. The ethics of genetically modified animals is debatable.

But what if Issue 2 could help with Issue 1?

A tiny fish has been genetically modified to glow when BPA is present in the water in which it is swimming.

The medaka fish doesn’t glow naturally, so scientists borrowed a green fluorescent gene from a jellyfish and spliced it next to the gene of the fish that detects estrogen. The result is when there is estrogen, or a chemical that mimics estrogen, present in the water, the fish glow green.

When tested around Hong Kong, chemicals that otherwise show no estrogenic effect seemed to have combined and produced an estrogenic effect. Eeeeek.

The moral dilemma

When viewed as a scientific tool, this seems like a great one for checking for BPA, as organisms have genes that automatically detect estrogen, and if the genes can detect these chemicals then it will probably affect the organism.  However, given that it is a living animal, genetically modified to be used to test for a chemical that is known affect them, it seems a bit wrong.

Being able to detect BPA and other estrogen mimicking chemicals is a good step to dealing with the problem, but is such genetic modification justified?

Source: “Fluorescent fish shows if feminising chemicals present”, New Scientist, 11 June 2011.

Photo: Flickr Creative commons by ToastyKen

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About the Author

I spent the last five years earning my PhD in Engineering. I enjoy all types of science and writing, so I am trying out a new career path in science publication and communication. Recently, I have moved to Oxford, England. As an environmentally-conscious person, Oxford is a great place to live...notably there is no car required. I love to talk about vegan cooking, plant-based diets and the benefits of such, so just ask if you are interested. I do ballet for fun and love kitties.