It's neither a hideous mutant monster nor a super-heroic product of a botched nuclear experiment. It's a GloFish, the world's first genetically engineered, glow-in-the-dark pet, and nobody knows what to do with it.
Originally developed by Singapore scientists, the GloFish is a typical zebra danio, a plebeian among pet fish, but with a bonus: a gene from a species of red coral that makes the fish glow under ultraviolet light.
As scientific research tool, GloFish created little alarm, but their commercial distribution recently prompted the California Fish and Game Commission to ban their sale or possession throughout the state. Critics worried that accidental release into the wild could doom native fish species, and that their popularity could lead to scarier genetic commerce (think dogs with hooves).
California Fish Commissioner Sam Schuchat, who's obviously never toked Humboldt homegrown under a blacklight, declared, "No matter how low the risk is, there needs to be a public benefit that is higher than this."
In Oregon, however, GloFish haven't caused even a ripple of controversy. The state's Department of Fish & Wildlife hasn't received a single concerned call. Officials at the local Sierra Club and Oregon Environmental Council were unaware of the glowing menace available for $5 to $15 a pop. Even Northwest RAGE, a group that has fought against genetically engineered corn and poplars (see "Frankentrees," WW, Nov. 5, 2003), was caught off-guard by the GE fish. (The group will discuss a possible push for an Oregon ban at its Feb. 14 meeting.)
Unfortunately for local pet shops, customers are equally baffled. "They're just a glorified danio, a $2 fish," says Chris Hellestedt, who works at Animal House Pet Shop, where sales have been poor. "We're going to sell 'em till we can get rid of them."