In Tyler Moore’s 20-gallon aquarium, white clouds, goldfish, swordtails and other orange and red fish swirl, making a color coordinated blur. After adding three new GloFish to his tank, Moore was satisfied with the effect.
“They school with my white clouds,” Moore said.
GloFish are the first genetically modified pet. They are created by injecting the embryo or egg of a zebra danio with a gene from another species such as coral, sea anemone and jellyfish, which colors the fish and allows them to fluoresce.
Scientists at the National University of Singapore originally developed the GloFish to help identify environmental pollutants in the water. The hope was for the fish to fluoresce when the water is polluted and remain black and white when the water is safe, but scientists have yet to make the fluoresce indicator turn on and off.
In front of the entrance to the dark halls of aquarium-lined walls at Columbia Pet Center is a white dry erase board that advertises various snake sales and the new, controversial GloFish. Taped on the board is an advertisement cut from a magazine that depicts the red GloFish “glowing” under a black light. The ad reads, “The world’s most expensive danio at $5.99.”
A danio is a small, often brightly colored freshwater fish.
Josh Hendren, general manager of Columbia Pet Center, said he wants to be up-front with customers about the cost of the GloFish.
“They’re kind of expensive. People have a hard time spending more than two dollars for a fish,” he said.
The new fish species grows to be the same size as the zebra danio, 1 to 1 ½ inches, but is significantly more expensive. A zebra danio costs about 79 cents.
Although their name can confuse customers, GloFish don’t glow in the dark. Instead, in a dark aquarium with a black light, which doesn’t penetrate water, fish swimming by the light seem to glow a red color.
Red GloFish are the only ones currently available, but green GloFish are coming later this year, said Stephen Oakes, spokesperson for Yorktown Technologies, the company that markets GloFish out of Austin, Texas. When GloFish mate, their offspring will have the same fluorescent color.
Jerry Wendell Dalton, owner of a GloFish, was disappointed that the fish did not glow as he said he had heard on FOX News. He doesn’t have the necessary black light.
“They’re supposed to glow,” Dalton said. “I’m not gonna buy any more.”
Some Columbia pet stores, such as Columbia Pet Center and Pisces Pets, received introductory GloFish in early December. After Monday, the fish were allowed to be distributed nationally.
Although the fish are now widely available in all states except California, PETCO in Columbia was unsure if it would be getting the fish because the estimated price would be $10 to $12, almost twice the price of other Columbia pet stores. A manager also cited ethical concerns.
“We do not sell any animals which are artificially colored,” said Steve Smolinski, operations manager at PETCO. “It is hard not to feel the same way about these fish, which have been genetically changed for entertainment purposes. We try to put the animals’ best interest first.”
PETCO is not alone in its concerns.
The Sierra Club has expressed concerns about the fish being unregulated by the government, specifically the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.
“It creates a situation that any genetically modified animals that are not an environmental concern (covered by the EPA) or edible (covered by the FDA) won’t have federal regulation,” said Diane Albright, endangered species and biodiversity chair of the Ozark Chapter Sierra Club. “It closes doors to public participation.”
There are also concerns that GloFish would be introduced into the wild and have a negative impact on the food sources and habitats of native fish. GloFish are a tropical fish living in freshwater, however, and it is unlikely these fish could survive in Missouri’s winter waters. The GloFish needs to live in water that is 68 to 75 degrees, said Jeff Koppelman, resource scientist at Missouri Department of Conservation.
It is concerns such as these that caused the sale of the fish to be banned in California.
Although there are some ethical and environmental concerns, PETA says it has not received any formal complaints about the GloFish.
“People aren’t very warm and fuzzy about fish,” said Laura Brown, special assistant in the domestic animal issues and abuse department at PETA.
Moore has different priorities.
“All I care about is them (GloFish) living a long, healthy life,” he said.
Brian Matney, owner of Pisces Pets, said the store hasn’t sold large numbers of GloFish, but he expects sales to pick up as people learn more about them.
Of the 24 fish they started out with three weeks ago, about half have sold. At Columbia Pet Center, Hendren said they have sold about 50 of the 75 fish they started with.
Hendren said that public reaction has been positive.
“Everybody loves them,” Hendren said. “It is surprising. I expected someone to be griping.”