"TAIPEI, Taiwan — When the world's first genetically engineered fish, the glowing "Night Pearl," hit the market two months ago, its Taiwan developer hoped for a sea of profits.
But instead, Taikong Corp dived into a barage of criticism from environmentalists who say the 5 cm (2 inch) fluorescent green fish poses a threat to the earth's ecosystem.
European environmentalists have been protesting against the genetically engineered fish -- injected with a jellyfish gene -- for months, and the Singapore government last week seized hundreds of them being imported, said Fisher Lin, research manager for Taikong, a Taipei-based pet fish breeder turned biotech firm.
"It's difficult to make a genetic engineering breakthrough, but it's even more difficult to commercialise the product," said Lin.
Environmenalists say that if the formerly colourless fresh water ricefish -- which now glows green in the dark -- is released into nature, it could wreak havoc on the ecosystem.
But Lin insists all the transgenic fish developed by Taikong are environmentally safe, as they are sterile.
The introduced gene comes from a natural marine organism and the finished product -- the glowing fish -- is merely protein and harmless to people or other marine creatures, he said.
"The greatest worries about introducing any new GMO (genetically modified organisms) are, first of all, the impact on the ecosystem, and secondly, whether it will cause a threat to human bodies," said Lin.
"We still have high hopes for the transgenic fish and believe they will sell. But we also know people will have a lot of questions," he said.
Taikong has already launched a second transgenic swimmer, a fluorescent purple zebra fish that has been injected with a gene found in coral, and hopes it and the ricefish would swim into aquariums all over the world.
They also plan to introduce multicolour fluorescent pet fish, including red, purple and blue. "