Ornamental Fish

Pterophyllum scalare
Gene Transfer in Taiwan is World-Renowned
Internationally, Taiwan is a leader in biotechnology research and development. Today (May 25), a press conference at the Council of Agriculture, Executive Yuan, was held by scientists and the Jy Lin Company , the biggest exporter of ornamental fish in Taiwan, to announce that the first green-fluorescent angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) and convict cichlid (Cichlasoma nigrofasciatus) in the world have successfully been developed. The body colors of these two fish are a beautiful green fluorescent under blue light (as shown in the picture). With help from the Council of Agriculture and Fishery Agency, this industrial-academic cooperation received technical guidance from Academia Sinica and the “Office for the Promotion of Industrialization of Agricultural Biotechnology”. Then, through the screening and breeding undertaken by the technical team at Jy Lin Company, the beautiful new fish were cultivated which can be used for ornamental, scientific, and medical applications.

According to Yu-Ho Lin, Chairman of Jy Lin Company, these ornamental fish are aquaculture species with high economic value and great development potential. They are very suitable for development in Taiwan which is experiencing rising manpower costs and limited water resources at present. In addition to cats and dogs, ornamental fish are also very popular pets, due to the great variety of breeds and the various gorgeous colors. To develop the ornamental aquarium industry, two useful biotechnology tools of gene engineering and gene transfer can be utilized to change fish species and produce special genetic strains; for example, increasing or improving the appearance of the body color to make new kinds of tropical fish with a variety of hues. Through these techniques, we can greatly enhance a fish’s ornamental value and industrial competitiveness in international markets.

According to Dr. Jyh-Yih Chen of the Marine Research Station, Institute of Cellular and Organismic Biology, Academia Sinica, proper breeds and improvements are a crucial influence in terms of developing biotech pets with high economic value. After discussions with Jy Lin Company, he chose the common angelfish and convict cichlid to be the research subjects. He also suggested that Jy Lin Company speed up the cultivation of transparent strains of these two fishes, with the expectation that the implanted fluorescent protein genes would fully perform.

Three years ago, Academia Sinica began research on muscle promoters. Researchers recently found a new type of promoter with a whole-body muscle performance gene. A plasmid was also constructed, by means of a promoter connected to the green fluorescence protein gene and an antimicrobial peptide gene. The first convict cichlid implanted with the improved muscle-promoter fluorescence protein gene was born in the Marine Research Station, Institute of Cellular and Organismic Biology, Academia Sinica, on August 15, 2008. Through the technique of marker-assisted selection (MAS) provided by the Jy Lin Company, the molecular markers were applied to genetic breeding and improvement. To the present, the third generation (F3) has successfully been born, which has established a solid foundation for the industrialization of the achievements in such transgenic ornamental fish. “In the world, this is the first instance in which the fish of the Family Cichlidae have been implanted with the green fluorescent gene and have successfully passed it down to the next generation.” Undoubtedly, such research is a new milestone in terms of biotech pets. This is not only the first instance of fluorescent ornamental fish of the Family Cichlidae in the world, but also the largest fluorescent ornamental fish worldwide at the present stage! Such an achievement has initiated inspiring prospects of research on high-class ornamental fish.

Yu-Ho Lin pointed out that the common angelfish is a beautiful and elegant ornamental fish from the Amazon River. It was a global sensation when it was introduced to the international market in 1915. A pair of them might cost up to US$75. At that time, a new car cost only US$500. Because the common angelfish has graceful fin lines and a moderate personality, it still remains one of the most popular ornamental fish to this day. The transparent common angelfish implanted with the fluorescent protein gene is a breed exclusively cultivated by Jy Lin Company: its skin is transparent, while its internal organs can clearly be seen. Among the common angelfish from the Amazon River, the research personnel at Jy Lin Company searched for individuals with lighter skin color due to gene mutations, and bred them to produce later generations. Then, among the later generations, the ones with the lightest color were once again selected for breeding. After similar selection and breeding were repeatedly undertaken, individuals of the common angelfish with an almost-transparent skin color were finally cultivated.

Yu-Ho Lin said: The R&D team at Jy Lin Company adopted the transfer method via reproductive ovary electroporation, to transplant the external fluorescent protein gene into the transparent common angelfish’s ovaries. The first batch of F0 transgenic common angelfish (96 in total) were obtained in January 2008. After cultivating approximately 20,000 individuals, the research personnel were able to obtain transgenic fish that exhibited stable performance and passed the trait on to subsequent generations—the fluorescent common angelfish shows green fluorescent light from the inside out. Through two kinds of authentication via molecular biological techniques, the results were completely consistent, which proved that gene transfer was successful.

With technical guidance provided by the Marine Research Station, Institute of Cellular and Organismic Biology, Academia Sinica for many years, the Jy Lin Company has accumulated considerable experience in technical aspects of gene transfer in ornamental fish; these techniques are widely applied to many kinds of popular-selling fish internationally. At present, this industrial-academic cooperation is still actively ongoing, and aims to successfully apply a sterility technique to transgenic ornamental fish. In addition, by means of marker-assisted selection (MAS) in fish to analyze genetic variations and formation, the speed and efficiency of breeding fluorescent ornamental fish can be enhanced, so as to advance commercial mass production. In the meantime, Jy Lin Company also hopes as soon as possible to get these fish approved under the genetically modified organism (GMO) laws in various countries. In particular, they hope to gain approval under the Taiwanese GMO law.

When the Jy Lin Company carried out the research and developed the first green fluorescent common angelfish and convict cichlid in the world, many foreign biological museums actively invited the company through many channels to go there to exhibit these first green fluorescent species in the world.