"We are very excited about the new fish," the latest in a line of genetically modified fish developed by Taikong Corp. since 2001, said the company's finance manager Bill Kuo.
Kuo said he saw huge market potential for the fish in China because "traditionally, gold represents prosperity and fortune to the Chinese".
Each fish will sell for 59 Taiwan dollars (US$1.80).
"The fish is especially charming because while it glows with gold fluorescence under white light, it is able to change colours under other kinds of aquarium lights," said Lin Hsueh-lian, head of the company's research team.
When the company's first neon fish hit the domestic market last year, the average price was around 600 Taiwan dollars apiece. Some even sold for 3000 Taiwan dollars, Kuo said.
The glow-in-the-dark fish was listed as one of the "coolest inventions" in 2003 by US Time magazine.
"At that time, we were unable to mass breed neon fish. We were only able to provide thousands of such fish each month," Kuo said, noting that Taikong had now overcome the breeding barriers.
Now the company is setting its sights on China, having already licenced a Chinese fish farm to mass produce the transgenic fish.
Worldwide demand is estimated at around 200 million of such fish, the company said.
Taikong first drew attention in 2001 when it displayed a Japan-originated rice fish which emitted neon green all over its body.
Jelly fish protein used
The gene transferring expertise used by the company's researchers consists of introducing a fluorescent protein extracted from jelly fish, into the nucleus of a rice fish embryo by "microinjection".
Through this process, the fluorescence replicates and takes hold in the fish embryo, the company said, adding that the transplanted genes may come from a fish of the same or different species.
Taikong Corp. has sought to allay fears that the transgenic fish might cause harm by crossbreeding with wild species and producing "Frankenfish".
The fish are sterilised through "chromosome manipulation technique" before they go on the market, it said.
Fish "not predatory"
Jan Fan-hua, professor from Taiwan Ocean University, dismissed concerns about the neon fish saying they were not predatory and would not be able to survive even if they were thrown into rivers.
However, some environmentalists remain sceptical.
"Our existing knowledge about bio-technology is scant. Compared with the other matured industrial technologies, it is still in the 'Stone Age,'" said Liu Ming-lone, head of the non-profit Environmental Quality Protection Fund.
"The company claims the fish would not have a negative bearing on the environment, but who can say for sure that anything unknown to us now might not happen in the future?"
Therefore, "it is not proper to put the fish on the markets at this moment. More evaluations and tests should have been done by responsible government agencies," Liu said.
Taiwan lacks laws to govern transgenic species despite Taikong having become the world's first company to sell such animals in 2003.
Taikong's sales in 2004 are forecast at 370-million Taiwan dollars (US$11.28-million), with 46-million Taiwan dollars coming from sales of fluorescent fishes.
Source: CheckBiotech - 26th November 2004