AquAdvantage® Salmon, Or The Modern Prometheus

Comparison of AquAdvantage Salmon and "Conventional" Salmon

Like it or not, the revolution will be grilled. And canned. And possibly eaten raw. // AquaBounty

Per a recently article in the New York Times, a Waltham, MA-based company called AquaBounty is nearing FDA approval for a product of theirs that has been over a decade in the making: a breed of Atlantic Salmon which has been engineered, using genes from the Chinook Salmon and ocean pout, to grow twice as fast as normal Atlantic salmon on the exact same diet. Unless an unforeseen hitch delays or aborts the approval process, the AquAdvantage® Salmon is slated to become the country’s first genetically-engineered animal approved and produced for human consumption. To be fair, we have long “guided” nature to our advantage, and already directly and indirectly eat lots and lots of genetically modified plants. This salmon thing is different, though. Once these genes go through the wringer, whatever comes out will be moving. It will, on some level, think breathe and feel. It will bleed when you cut it. We will have created an animal. What does this mean for us?

To be accurate, we’ve already created that animal. That’s it, up there in that picture. Weird, right? And we’re hardly strangers to this sort of thing, either; we already clone animals and genetically modify all sorts of living things, including our food, though that’s mostly things like corn and soy and alfalfa. All told, we’ve been tinkering for quite some time now: agriculture is inherently rooted in manipulating life to make it what we want it to be, from domestication of crops and livestock to selective hybridization of fruit.

So why will this salmon change things? Why does this suddenly matter? It matters because people, once this fish is approved, will really, really be forced to notice. We’ll be forced to notice because we will see pictures like the one above. We’ll be forced to notice because the approval of GMO animals for human consumption will ensure that more GMO food will follow down the pipeline. We”ll be forced to notice because we’ll be eating them, every day. The news will talk about it. Magazines will write articles about it. Maybe — though probably not — the food will actually be labeled as such. Contains genetically modified animals.

These sorts of techniques — the genetic modification of life — will become more commonplace once there is this type of legal precedent for them in the marketplace. As applications broaden, so too will the discourse surrounding it. We’ll all have some reason to notice. Maybe you’ll be fine eating genetically modified fish, but you’ll be turned off at the idea of having a genetically modified dog as a pet. Or maybe you’ll be fine with genetically modified pets, but not fine with genetically modified research animals used for product testing. Whatever your issue is, something will strike you at a fundamental level: we are playing with the stuff of our Creator, and there is no going back. When the first of these salmon splashes from its holding pen onto your dinner plate, Man as Demigod will have more or less officially arrived. We will be forced to deal with our new powers — our new selves, really — in the very, very immediate future.

I’m not trying to pass judgment on genetic manipulation as a whole. There are a lot of wonderful things that genetic manipulations of organisms could make possible, and it’s totally inevitable that we explore it. The possibility of serious error — namely, creating something that inadvertantly gets out of control and decimates ecosystems, or worse — shouldn’t automatically stop us from trying to grow and progress. We’re pushing into very, very uncharted territory, though: as far as we know, we’re doing that have never happened anywhere, in this or any other universe.

I’m also not trying to sound like some paranoid science fiction nut. That’s the thing: this sounds all sounds weird and far out, but it’s real. Now. And the salmon thing is pretty basic. Technology progresses rapidly. What will we be capable of creating in 25 years? And then, the elephant in the room: like it or not, some people — though maybe not in America — will begin applying these techniques to human beings. It all starts with our food. It all starts now.

Of course, I hope this great debate actually does occur. I hope that we’ll be forced to ask these extremely difficult questions of ourselves, to realize that humankind is now, starkly and undeniably, responsible for itself. I’m forced to hope for this, because the alternative — that we blindly swallow it — is far more onerous. But it’s scary to contemplate, and selfishly, I wish I didn’t have to. I wish I wasn’t going to have to bear witness to see genetically modified animals, to genetically modified humans. I wish for simpler times. There is no other being or power which is going to shape our world for us or determine what we do. If we succeed, we earned it, and if we fail, we are to blame. Maybe these tools usher in a new era of prosperity, or maybe these best-laid plans go awry. I’m scared of standing helpless in the event that we witness the latter.

It’s not about the fear, necessarily, that these things will somehow get loose and wreak havoc on the ecosystem. It’s about the fact that man, in harnessing the ability to create novel life forms, must now forever live with a loaded gun above his head.

The AquAdvantage Salmon will soon splash into pens and tanks across the country, slowly swimming in circles as though there’s nothing out of the ordinary occurring. The scariest things in life don’t come with creepy soundtracks, but with the crushing silence of irreversability. We have arrived at the point where our reality and our illusions must go their separate ways — the weight of seven billion hungry mouths impels us to career past it. So get ready. Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going? We’re about to really throw ourselves — our prettiest parts and ugliest parts alike — under the bright lights.


One Response to AquAdvantage® Salmon, Or The Modern Prometheus

  1. Pingback: Genetically Modified Foods Are Not The Enemy | NO FUN FINN

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: