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Unleashing GMO's into the environment

." Environmentalists have given the idea a cautious welcome. "It would help," says Bebb. "I do think there's a need for research like this before experiments come out of the lab."

Sue Mayer of GeneWatch UK agrees. "Models are extremely useful and they can really pick up what things are sensitive to. They are bound to make you feel that there has been rigorous investigation before you go to the next step." But models are only ever as good as the data you put in, she warns. But what will the biotech companies think? "I suspect that industry would baulk at such a thorough approach," says Peter Kareiva, a senior ecologist at the US National Marine Fisheries Service. It could take up to five years to get enough data on GM salmon strains for the model to work, for example. But Mayer says that firms won't have a choice if regulators deem such tests appropriate. To develop their model, Muir and Howard identified six aspects of the life history of fish that affect their "fitness"-the number of offspring they produce. These include how many fish survive to adulthood, the age at which they sexually mature and the number of eggs females produce. Then they developed a computer model based on these six traits that predicts how any modified strain would fare against the wild-type fish.

The researchers applied their model to a strain of Japanese ricefish, or medaka, to which they had added the gene for human growth hormone. They counted and measured separate populations of modified and unmodified fish for around two years to see how they compared.

The modified fish were less likely to survive to adulthood, but they reached sexual maturity earlier and the females laid more eggs. Attempting to predict how these effects balance out would be extremely difficult, but the computer model can work it out.

Muir and Howard found that even though the modified fish were more likely to die young, they would still take over the natural pop
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Contact: Claire Bowles
claire.bowles@rbi.co.uk
44-207-331-2751
New Scientist
4-Jul-2001


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