The Science Behind Genetically Engineered Salmon

By John McQuaid, "How to Make a Salmon," March/April 2011

How AquAdvantage transgenic salmon is made.

In an elegant feat of genetic engineering, the foreign DNA strands reprogram the salmon’s metabolism: the chinook gene signals the manufacture of extra growth hormones, while the ocean pout gene (which normally signals the production of antifreeze proteins when the temperature drops) keeps that internal hormone factory switched to “on” during the winter months, when ordinary salmon stop growing. As the embryos mature, the foreign genes accelerate their growth: a tiny fry grows to a 13-pound adult in two years—twice as fast as an ordinary farm-raised fish. Thus the fish can be farmed year-round, in any climate, and more production cycles squeezed into less time.

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