How to Fishy business

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How to Fishy business

The mood at AquaBounty Technologies a year ago was encouraging. Regulators had issued a draft assessment of the company's genetically engineered salmon, which grow faster than normal, and found them to be more environmentally friendly.

A few months after the evaluation comment period closed, the company began raising more than 6,000 kilograms of salmon at its facility in Panama, in anticipation of final approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which would open the gates and allow Fish on supermarket shelves.

That optimism is now stifled with the fish, which was dropped when it failed to get approval. The FDA says it is still processing more than 35,000 public comments made in response to the draft evaluation.

But for AquaBounty, based in Maynard, Massachusetts, it is the latest in a series of delays of nearly 20 years (see Nature 497, 17–18; 2013). Many of the FDA deliberations have taken place behind closed doors, due to setbacks and rumors of political interference leading to confusion.

As the delay progressed, the technology used to make AquaBounty's salmon has become obsolete. In the current excitement over targeted gene editing, which allows researchers to modify individual genes without leaving traces of foreign DNA, AquaBounty's salmon — which contains genes from other species — seems like a relic.

But the company's experience may deliver a warning message. The FDA has yet to announce how it will evaluate animals engineered with gene-editing techniques.

It is being discussed in private again, leaving frustrated researchers to wonder whether these technologies will bear the same fate as endangered salmon. The FDA must learn from past experiences, bring these discussions to the public, and leave political views at the door.
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