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Transgenic Res. 2002 Apr;11(2):101-14.

Assessment of possible ecological risks and hazards of transgenic fish with implications for other sexually reproducing organisms.

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Department of Animal and Biological Sciences, Purdue University, IN 47906-1151, W. Lafayette, USA.


Transgenic technology is developing rapidly; however, consumers and environmentalists remain wary of its safety for use in agriculture. Research is needed to ensure the safe use of transgenic technology and thus increase consumer confidence. This goal is best accomplished by using a thorough, unbiased examination of risks associated with agricultural biotechnology. In this paper, we review discussion on risk and extend our approach to predict risk. We also distinguish between the risk and hazard of transgenic organisms in natural environments. We define transgene risk as the probability a transgene will spread into natural conspecific populations and define hazard as the probability of species extinction, displacement, or ecosystem disruption given that the transgene has spread. Our methods primarily address risk relative to two types of hazards: extinction which has a high hazard, and invasion which has an unknown level of hazard, similar to that of an introduced exotic species. Our method of risk assessment is unique in that we concentrate on the six major fitness components of an organism's life cycle to determine if transgenic individuals differ in survival or reproductive capacity from wild type. Our approach then combines estimates of the net fitness parameters into a mathematical model to determine the fate of the transgene and the affected wild population. We also review aspects of fish ecology and behavior that contribute to risk and examine combinations of net fitness parameters which can lead to invasion and extinction hazards. We describe three new ways that a transgene could result in an extinction hazard: (1) when the transgene increases male mating success but reduces daily adult viability, (2) when the transgene increases adult viability but reduces male fertility, and (3) when the transgene increases both male mating success and adult viability but reduces male fertility. The last scenario is predicted to cause rapid extinction, thus it poses an extreme risk. Although we limit our discussion to aquacultural applications, our methods can easily be adapted to other sexually reproducing organisms with suitable adjustments of terminology.

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