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The Norwegian-Canadian GMO-link

The canadian transgene research were shared with similar research projects in Norway and Chine, according to dr. Garth Fletcher.

The canadian transgene research were shared with similar research projects in Norway and Chine, according to dr. Garth Fletcher.

Was the genetic modification of growth properties of salmon, conducted in Norway during the 1980s, a foundation for AquaBounty’s development of the fast-growing salmon AquAdvantage?

Several scientists who were active in different GMO-research in Norway 30 years ago imply that the research they conducted created a basis for AquaBounty’s further work before the Norwegian projects were stopped effectively by politicians, governmental research funds and investors fleeing a heated political/ethical debate.

Others give the impression that no such connection did exist.

One could, of course, conclude, without taking much of a risk, that a research project that follows an earlier research project in some way build on the former. However, examples exist where a project ignores earlier research, regardless of the relevance.

Our first attempt to verify the link between the Norwegian research and the later AquAdvantage salmon fell to the ground as an AquaBounty representative replied that “There is no connection to the work in Norway, to my knowledge.” Luckily, he also pointed us to “the Canadian researcher that led the team that developed the AquAdvantage Salmon, Dr. Garth Fletcher at Memorial University”.

Dr. Fletcher quickly offered us his description of the succession of research, starting with Richard Palmiter’s work on mice growth at the University of Washington, and leading up to the work he did for increased salmon growth for AquaBounty Technologies Inc.:

“Dear Tellef: As you indicate all of the research on transgenic animals started with the work of Palmiter, Brinster et al following their publication (and cover photo) in Nature (1982) demonstrating that the growth of mice could be dramatically enhanced by transferring a chimeric growth hormone gene construct into its genome (this construct contained a human growth hormone gene).

This group (Palmiter et al.) were very generous with their gene construct and gave it to various scientists such as Rokkones (Norway) and Zhu (China). Our group (Fletcher, Hew, Davies) also got into the game following the Palmiter et al. publication. At that time, we were interested in improving the freezer resistance of Salmon for aquaculture, so we were transferring antifreeze protein genes (from fish) to Atlantic Salmon.

The first publication to show dramatically increased growth was published by Zhu et al. in 1985. Rokkones et al. published an abstract in 1985 and paper in 1989 showing that the same gene can be expressed in Rainbow trout (no evidence of increased growth). We published our first paper on antifreeze gene transfer in 1988. We moved on to growth hormone gene transfer to Atlantic salmon using a gene construct using an antifreeze gene promoter to drive a Chinook salmon growth hormone gene.

Very rapid growth was obvious in the spring of 1990. Memorial University and the Toronto Hospital for Sick Kids filed a preliminary patent application which was eventually licensed to a start-up biotech company A/F Protein (morphed into Aqua Bounty Technologies) which raised venture capital funds to begin the commercialization process - a very long story.

Here is another tit-bit of information: In 1995, I went to AquaNor in Norway where the company had a booth promoting the GM salmon. As I understand it following our visit the government of Norway banned all research on transgenic salmonids. Peter Aleström one of the authors on the Rokkones paper moved on to study gene transfer to zebrafish. Incidentally, while in Norway in 1995, I did give a talk to some group at a location like Fresh Water Institute in Trondheim."

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