A Biodiversity Conservation Research Group report has found the first evidence of a biological weapon on Australia’s stocks of red snapper, which are being targeted by the introduction of the genetically modified ‘killer’ gene.
The report, by the Australian Centre for Environmental Law, says scientists have found the biological weapon, named CYB, in fish samples taken from five rivers in western Australia’s South West region.
“We are concerned that some species are at risk,” said the report’s author Professor Alan Tuckett.
He said the study revealed “no obvious damage” to fish stocks.
Tuckett said the Biodiversity Conservation Research group has long been concerned about the impact of genetically modified crops on biodiversity.
But, in the wake of a devastating 2009 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the group decided to look for evidence of the effect of the genetic modification on the population of fish.
It has not yet determined how the fish in question were affected, but the report found that the fish were being eaten by the red snappers.
Scientists have not yet linked the gene to the outbreak of the Japanese pandemic, but have suggested it could be a major cause of the outbreak.
Professor Tucket said while there were concerns over the safety of the gene in general, it was a “strong indication” of the impact the gene was having on the populations of other species.
“(The finding) is not surprising given that the population at risk is red snapping species,” he said.
Dr Steve Williams, an associate professor at the University of Melbourne, said the finding could also mean that scientists have not been very careful about using genetic modification to save the species.
“This finding may help us understand more about the effects of the CYB gene on red snappings,” he told the ABC.
‘I would be terrified’Professor Williams said he was worried the scientists had not considered that there was a greater risk of the genes causing an outbreak than just a few individuals of the species being killed.
In Australia, the Red Snapper is the world’s largest fish species, with populations estimated to be as high as 100 million.
Its populations are now in decline and scientists are worried they could be the target of the “killer” gene.
Professor Williams, who is also a professor at RMIT University, said scientists had been working to reduce the impact on the fish population of the mutation.
“[Scientists] are trying to use other techniques that could be more humane to the fish and reduce the risk of further mutations occurring,” he explained.
However, Professor Williams said it was important to note that the study did not say the effects would be more severe if there was not a genetic change.
Even so, Professor Tucktt said the researchers had identified an area of the world that had suffered significant damage to its fish stocks from the introduction in the late 1980s of a genetically modified crop.
Biodiversity scientist Professor Terry Lander said he would be “shocked and appalled” if he were a red snaper farmer in that area.
Red snappers are found in many places across the world and are also found in the North American ocean, and are one of the most popular fish in the world.
Australia’s Red Snappers are being threatened by the “genetic modification” of their genes, Professor Lander told the BBC.
His group has called on all Australian and international scientists to get on board with a genetic modification effort that would not harm the fish populations.
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