Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Super Tuna

As TAE cynically watches the human race destroy itself via environmental disaster, war, and political gridlock, I have to wonder, are we doomed?

One of TAE's grandstand issues is that the human race is raping the oceans as though they were a limitless resource. One example is that having exhausted the world's cod populations, we then turned on the tuna. Now bluefin tuna are extremely threatened, and may very well go extinct. I thought about this yesterday as I was guiltily eating a tuna salad sandwich.

So it seemed providential to me that this New Scientist article came through the pipes later that day, about the emerging field of animal genetic modification. Of course, calling animal genetic modification "emerging" is a bit misguiding; we've been selectively breeding animals for centuries for certain genetic traits. Nevertheless, active, rapid and intentional changes to animal genomes that cause mutations for traits that aren't in line with the natural evolution of a creature is what is emerging as a realistic field. For example pigs with omega 3 fatty acids to promote heart health of the humans that eat the pork, or cattle with antibodies in their milk to aid the human immune system.

So it occurs to me, as we plumb the planet for more and more edible flesh, that if we accept that the environment, and global ecosystem, is totally screwed, courtesy our enormous population, then perhaps we should embrace the idea of GMO, specifically ones that rapidly reproduce and grow.
Part of the bluefin tuna depopulation is because they do not breed until they are at least 5 years old, at which time the are more than large enough to be aggressively fished. Why not modify them to be sexually mature after one year. Or genetically modify them to grow much slower, so that they are sexually mature before they are large enough to be legally caught? Why not genetically modify them to survive in freshwater, so they could be more cheaply farmed? Or genetically modify them to produce five times as many eggs as they currently do? 50 times as many eggs?
There are many potential strategies we could use to positively affect the population of harvested animals in the world, especially ocean species.

We just need to accept it as a necessity, and accept that human population increases and demand increases have made reduced fishing is neither acceptable nor politically feasible.


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