Regulatory science for aquatic animals with novel traits

Learn about the aquatic animals with novel traits theme in our aquatic biotechnology research and development strategy.

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Our goal

In regulatory science for aquatic animals with novel traits we research the risks and benefits associated with the use of aquatic novel living organisms. This allows for effective regulation.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is responsible for the regulation of aquatic organisms with novel traits through the administration of the:

  • Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
  • New Substances Notification Regulations for aquatic organisms with novel traits

This covers freshwater and marine organisms that have characteristics resulting from specific genetic changes that we made from intentional:

  • selection
  • development
  • introduction

Risk assessment models

We must conduct risk assessments when a company with genetically engineered aquatic organisms (transgenic organisms) wants to bring them to Canada for sale or manufacturing.

We've developed non-commercial salmon strains with novel traits, using selective breeding and molecular biotechnology (like genetic engineering) in contained, land-based facilities. We chose salmon as a model species for study due to:

  • its international popularity among consumers
  • the likelihood that it may be one of the first species to be genetically engineered by a company for commercial aquaculture use

We use these fish to conduct research to support risk assessments on the potential impact of new fish on:

  • wild fish
  • other species
  • the surrounding environment

At DFO labs, we're studying how similar or different genetically engineered salmon are to wild salmon by examining:

  • shape
  • fertility
  • behaviour
  • eating patterns
  • swimming ability
  • survival instincts
  • spawning success
  • disease resistance

Information from our studies is used to inform regulatory decisions. Whether regulators permit a proposed aquatic product with novel traits in Canada is based on potential risk to human and environmental health.

Research to date, examining multiple generations of fish, indicates that major and ongoing influxes of domesticated salmon would have the ability to influence wild populations.

Risk assessment research takes place in:

Protecting wild fish genetic makeup

Researchers are working to ensure that transgenic salmon can't affect the genetic makeup of wild populations if they escape. This means researching how to limit their reproductive capability.

Triploidy, as a containment method, means giving organisms an extra set of chromosomes. Triploid fish, shellfish and mollusks are sterile (incapable of producing viable eggs or sperm). This allows us to limit the possibility of transgenic species interbreeding with their wild counterparts.

To assess the effectiveness of triploidy, DFO scientists are:

  • examining whether triploid aquatic organisms are stable
  • evaluating the success rate of inducing triploidy using different methods

So far, studies have shown that the triploidy approach isn't perfect. There are cases of triploid shellfish reverting over time to diploidy (2 chromosomes) and regaining their ability to reproduce. This fact is important for regulators to consider when reviewing applications for commercial development and rearing of transgenic aquatic animals.

Identifying domesticated and invasive aquatic species

Invasive species alter habitat and 'choke out' native species. DFO scientists are developing scientific tools that allow us to know which organisms are native to prevent ecosystem damage. We're working to identify domesticated (selectively bred) and invasive aquatic species, and strains with potential threats to Canadian ecosystems.

We're working with partners to maintain efficient coordination in the federal biotechnology regulatory system. These partners include:

  • Health Canada
  • the Canadian Food Inspection Agency
  • the Canadian Biotechnology Secretariat
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada

The partnership approach reinforces our:

  • commitment to responsibly manage all aspects of the development and application of biotechnology
  • shared determination to work together to strike a balance between the:
    • detection and management of risk
    • development of new biotechnology discoveries
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