GloFish Central

GloFish: a genetically engineered zebrafish (Danio rerio) with a fluorescent protein from jellyfish and coral. Initially designed as a kind of pollution detector—the idea being that the fluorescent proteins would “turn on” when in the presence of certain kind of toxins—what the researchers got instead was a fish that glowed all the time.

GloFish Zebrafish
GloFish picture from the official GloFish site

This permanent-glowing fish fed immediately into a whole host of marketing possibilities; the fish were first sold in Taiwan in 2002, 100,000 of them being sold in less than a month (at $18.60 a pop). Yorktown Technologies introduced the fish to the U.S. at the beginning of 2004.

These fish are not without question, of course. Unlike most inanimate marketed consumer products, for which we only wonder why?, the GlowFish treads into territory that makes some people uncomfortable and other people ecstatic: genetic engineering. While it can be argued whether or not selective breeding is qualitatively different from genetically engineering, the GlowFish is almost certainly the first genetically modified pet to hit the U.S. market. To boot, a very, very brief overview of links (we’re talking exceptionally cursory, here) corresponding to each side:


GloFish™ Fluorescent Fish Guiding Ethical Principles
FDA Statement Regarding Glofish (Dec 9, 2003)
First Genetically Modified Pet (*.pdf) (Yorktown Tech. Press Release)


GloFish draw suit (The Scientist: Jan 7, 2004)
Campaign on Genetically Engineered Fish (Center for Food Safety)
GloFish Risk (ScienCentral News: Dec 23, 2003)

Yorktown (the company marketing the fish in the U.S.) claims, on a press release (dated Nov 21, 2003):

“The company spent more than two years researching fluorescent zebra fish to reach a broad consensus with leading scientific experts and state regulatory agencies that GloFish™ fluorescent fish are safe for the environment. Their findings unambiguously show that fluorescent zebra fish will have no advantages over non-fluorescent zebra fish, and would not be able to establish populations in the wild.”

So, okay, the fish probably almost definitely, without a doubt, no maybes about it, will not be able to displace wild fish when it escapes, and probably won’t survive. (Under every scenario imaginable? Right. How about under every unimaginable scenario? Er, well…)

Another question, of course, has to do with the precedent being set. Which could be that any GE pet, as long as it’s thoroughly studied, etc. etc., is okay to be introduced and sold and all that jazz. Since there aren’t any laws explicitly governing this, however, there’s lots of wiggle room (as I like to call it). In other words, potential trouble. The GloFish seems like it could provide a nice, innocuous pet with which to work out any glitches in the basically nonexistent approval system for these types of things. What’ll probably happen, though, is that we’ll have to work out these problems with a pet (or animal or something else) that is more obviously a potential threat and/or ethical quandary.

We’ll see.

Of course, there’s also the question plaguing us all: What will happen to me if I eat one of these fish?