MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL--Building the capacity of scientists, regulators and environmental leaders in Thailand to evaluate and regulate the environmental safety of genetically engineered organisms is the goal of a four-year, $425,000 grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) to the Institute for Social, Economic, and Ecological Sustainability (ISEES) at the University of Miinnesota.
The AID grant will support the first scientific research on the effects of introducing tilapia--a fish that is a major food source in the region--that has been genetically engineered for growth enhancement.
The work will evaulate the potential safety or risk to biodiversity from the introduction of the tilapia, large numbers of which are raised in fish farms in the United States and around the world.
According to ISEES Director Anne Kapuscinski, a professor of fisheries and conservation biology and principal investigator for the grant, the Thai government has discouraged several requests to introduce such fish partly on account of the absence of case-specific risk assessment data and insufficient capability to assess and control genetically modified organisms. Tilapia are not native to Thailand, but some have escaped into natural rivers and wetlands and established feral populations.
The project will measure the likelihood that genetic material will flow from the introduced genetically modified tilapia to the existing feral populations of the fish. The impact of the introduction on other fish populations will also be evaluated. Another project goal is to help officials in Thailand and neighboring countries increase their skills in science-based risk assessment and safety planning and management of genetically engineered organisms.
"The ISEES program on governance of biotechnology has attracted domestic and international interest," said Kapuscinski. "This AID grant will enhance the international dimension of our biosafety research, graduate training and outreach. Also, we expect the project to enhance Thailand's role as a regional biotechnology and biosafety leader with the capacity to share scientific and regulatory expertise and information with other nations.