With a growing population and increasing demand for food, particularly meat products, agricultural practices need to adapt to improve environmental efficiency and yield. Sources suggest that by the year 2050, the human population will surpass 9.1 billion and if our agricultural systems do not adapt to a changing world there will be a devastating food crisis within the near future (Sohngen, 2017).
The following report looks at a specific aspect of the claim in which it is considered whether the farming of genetically modified fish should be banned or embraced. Further refinements to the research question were adjusted to consider the issues revolving around genetic modification in the context of aquaculture considering the limits of use.
Genetic modification, although possibly posing unknown health risks to consumers, workers or researchers as well as ecological threats to surrounding environments, is an important area of research that addresses the current issues of a growing food crisis (Buwa, 2013). However, the banning of genetically modified animals for farming purposes cannot be justified without further investigations into the drawbacks and benefits of this relatively new and underutilized technology. Therefore, research was conducted on the genetic modification of Tilapia to ensure a strictly male only population to increase productivity (NSW DOPI, 2014)(Tonelli, 2015). To determine whether this process ensures safe and profitable outcomes, the broader consequences of this procedure should be investigated.
To what extent should the farming of genetically modified Tilapia, to increase yield and profitability, be utilized to confront a growing demand for meat products?
Tilapia exhibit a sexual dimorphic growth pattern in which males grow faster and bigger than females (Vandeputte, 2007). Therefore, it is desirable to achieve a male only population to increase yield and profitability. The best way to achieve a cultured monosex population (all-male) is through control of sexual development (Ogbuebunu, 2014). While there are many methods of achieving this (such as by hand sexing and hormone treatment) genetic modification is the most promising and efficient. To obtain genetically modified male tilapia, researchers have utilized sex-specific DNA markers in breeding programs (an efficient modification to traditional selective breeding), create hybrids between tilapia with different sex determination loci, or they can alter the natural genetic traits of species (Key Laboratory of Aquatic Science of Chongqing, 2018). Researchers have also utilized techniques of transgenesis that have been applied to similar fish species (such as microinjections and lentiviral transfection) on Tilapia (Coffin, 2019). While genetic modification could be beneficial, there are concern that genetically modified tilapia may pose a threat to natural ecosystems and human health, thus being a field, which demands further research (Pretty, 2001).
Analysis and Interpretation
To keep pace with the rapidly expanding domain of fish marketing, Tilapia aquaculture must rely heavily on more sustainable practices, but this must not be at the expense of decrease productivity, increased cost or a compromise of product quality. Tilapia are reportedly the second most farmed fish and third largest consumed fish worldwide, therefore the improvement in efficiency through genetic modification could have drastic impacts. (IFFO, 2014)(Chen, 2018).
Lentiviral transfection is one of the most common method of genetic modification used on Tilapia (Fujimura, 2011). The process utilizes microinjections to insert retroviruses into host cells. Retroviruses are RNA viruses which can reverse transcription and convert their single stranded RNA into double stranded DNA and insert it into a host’s cells genome (Fernanda, 2016) With this method being utilized, a monosex population can be achieved. With a 90% success rate, lentiviral transfection has provided an effective alternate to other less successful methods, which could possibly lead to more research and development of the technology (Chen, 2018).
As tilapia present/express a sexual dimorphic growth pattern, it is important to notice if the differences between the sex are worth selecting from.The size comparison of male to female Tilapia presents immense differences (males have 60g of mass compared to females 34g, have a length of 147mm compared to 116mm and display a growth rate roughly double the size of a females). The desire of an all-male population can be justified by their larger body weight, length and growth rate, appealing to farmers when considering the production rate and yield of the fish.
The domestic consumption of tilapia compared to the imported fish for consumption (from 1990-2003 in the US). The graph outlines the extremely high imported consumption rates, with increased production and consumption after the global introduction to Genetic Modification to aquaculture. The exponential growth of imported products and minimal linear growth of domestic products imply that the US are not farming Tilapia, forcing fish marketers into importing genetically modified fish.
Health enthusiast and dietitians do not agree with the quality of imported fish, as research into the health risks and nutrition rates has shown that the fish has been proven harmful (Sohngen 2017). lifestyle influencers have promoted health risks associated with genetically modified tilapia and have launched campaigns to stop the distribution of the fish, ultimately leading to public abhorrence (HongNueng, 2007). Not only are the sources bias, but also do not consider scientific facts behind the health enquiries, which in time, will hurt the fish industry (as a whole).
Due to the rising debate over the legalization of GMOs, the realization, misinformation, ignorance and outrage of the domain has captured public attention, with many people now displaying interest with bold claims without scientific understanding or backing. The approval rates of GM animals (public opinion), with 23% of people agreeing with the factor and 77% disagreeing. While possibly leading to unknown health and safety issues, the technology is an extremely reliable and sustainable resource that provides an effective solution to the increasing food crisis and should not be ignored. While the public perception of GMs is mainly negative, it is likely that a lack of knowledge has left people relying on other uneducated sources.
Currently, genetic modification does not pose significant health risks, however, researchers are concerned about the unknown factors that could lead to hazardous or negative outbreaks which can affect global populations. Retroviruses have proven to be a highly dangerous area of research, requiring close monitorization. The risk of the technology escaping into waterways is extremely concerning to scientist, as the virus is similarly compared to hormones: their coding isn’t specific to a singular species. While this factor is extremely threatening to the environment and human safety, it provides more food for less input, which ultimately, is a risk worth taking for many less economically stable countries.
Conclusively, the farming of genetically modified tilapia should be utilized to confront a growing demand for meat products. It cannot be ignored that male Tilapia have many advantages for farmers, consumers and the environment. While currently displaying minimal health and safety issues, genetic modification of Tilapia has proven the most efficient, sustainable and effective process of ensuring a cultural monosex population. Farming of genetically modified Tilapia, when considering a scientific perspective, has little to no disadvantages and should be more commonly utilized internationally to minimalize importations. However, has left the public arguing against genetically modified animals for farming purposes, despite the major benefits that it has presented.
While there are few issues associated with the presented research, many features of evidence limited the use of an effective evaluation of factors. For example, there was a lack of evidence to the location in which the fish was farmed, which could possibly link to food shortages in poverty struck areas (forced to farm to raise economy). Similarly, articles presented little information about Tilapia being considered a pest in multiple countries and are illegal to farm in fear of populating waterways, understating the dangers and possibly overstating the impact increased efficiency could have on a global scale (K.E, 2014). This factor could have greatly contributed to the banning aspect of the claim and is a large feature that was ignored in many articles.
Other issues associated with the report revolve around the extreme social media outburst surrounding the genetic modification controversy, causing many uncreditable sources to publish articles with a lack of scientific understanding. These articles, with no scientific support, were often lacking relevant or reliable information, but did highlight the lack of transparency between GM research and public perception.
While all factors of the research question were covered, it is noticed that with further research, a firmer argument could have been enacted. Additional information based on the health and safety impacts of genetic modification could have been further utilized in depth, however was unable to due to lack of information. Factors such as a cost benefit analysis, to determine whether genetic modification would be beneficial to farmers, or research into improving female growth rates without genetic modification could of helped support a more justified report.