Scientists have been formulating “Frankenfoods” for decades now. There is validity to a certain amount of genetic modification; after all, we wouldn’t have today’s plump corn or watermelons or eggplants without selective breeding by ambitious (and hungry!) farmers over centuries. Nowadays, the GMOs we hear most about involving splicing genes from one incongruous species to another, which freaks some consumers out. But the unifying force in most of these attempts is the deliberate intention — which makes the news that scientists have accidentally created a new type of fish hybrid in an effort to save one of the parent species all the more surprising!
The task they set out to do was bolster the numbers of Russian Sturgeon, a fish prized for its caviar, but critically endangered due to overfishing, destruction of habitat, and pollution. A team of Hungarian scientists attempted asexual reproduction of the fish, using the sperm of another species, the American Paddlefish, to prompt the development of Russian Sturgeon eggs — a process known as gynogenesis.
Unfortunately, the Paddlefish and Sturgeon were genetically closer than the scientists thought, and instead of gynogenesis, good old-fashioned sexual reproduction took place, producing a hybrid now known temporarily (and cutely) as “sturddlefish.” And this may not be a bad thing:
“Each of the resulting fish look a little different, most of them bearing a stronger resemblance to the sturgeon (which was, of course, the whole idea). But if the offspring adopt the paddlefish’s dietary habits instead of the sturgeon’s, then the hybrid fish could greatly benefit the environment: Sturgeon have a diet of larger crustaceans while paddlefish feed on smaller organisms like plankton, making the latter’s diet more sustainable in the long run. (Microscopic organisms don’t have to be shipped in to feed the fish, meaning fewer carbon emissions.) Cheap diet + expensive roe = money in the bank.”
I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about invasive species in my neck of the woods — so it’s refreshing that this particular goof in animal management might turn out well for a change. And if it leads to stability for a food fish that we humans are responsible for destabilizing, all the better!