A study has shown that genetically modified salmon that breed with wild trout can produce a fast-growing, competitive fish that not only screws around with the local ecosystem, but because it also alters the fish genome in ways which cannot be anticipated.

Two same-age salmon, a GM salmon, rear, and a non-GM salmon, foreground. Photograph: Anonymous/AP

Two same-age salmon, a GM salmon, rear, and a non-GM salmon, foreground. Photograph: Anonymous/AP

What do you get when you cross a genetically modified salmon and wild brown trout? Well, something which is much faster growing and competitive than each of his parents and non GMO cousins. In the study, a natural environment was simulated, and the offspring suppressed the growth of GM salmon by 82% and wild salmon by 54% when all competed for food in a simulated stream.

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“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of environmental impacts of hybridisation between a GM animal and a closely related species,” wrote the scientists from Memorial University of Newfoundland. “These findings suggest that complex competitive interactions associated with transgenesis and hybridisation could have substantial ecological consequences for wild Atlantic salmon should they ever come into contact [with GM salmon] in nature.”

Study lead author, Krista Oke, said:

“These results emphasise the importance of stringent regulations to ensure GM animals do not escape into nature.”

Salmon and brown trout are closely related anyway and can create hybrids, though usually less than 1% of offspring are hybrids. But these natural hybrids are not really perturbing the environment, unlike the offspring which come from GMO fish.

The study raises more questions and concerns about genetically modified organisms altering ecosystems. But here’s another take on the problem: during millions and billions of evolution, nature has created a complex, specialized, sustainable genetic system of species. If genetically modified organisms start swimming in the gene pool, and contaminate it with human created genes, we don’t really know what will happen. We don’t even know the direct effects, let alone the indirect ramifications. These genes will forever remain in the gene pool, there is nothing we will be able to do to remove them – and we have no idea what effects this will have. There’s some food for thought.