Alligator-Catfish Hybrids Engineered by American Scientists

Catfish hybrids “enriched” with alligator DNA have been “cooked up” through gene-editing technology by scientists from Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, creating a creature that is infertile, but “resistant to infection.”

‘Pinch of Alligator DNA’

Even though the genetic engineering development may appear “scary,” the Auburn University researchers have set out to create a better catfish; they have borrowed DNA from alligators in order to accomplish that, OutdoorLife reported.

It points out, though, that the “byproduct” catfish species is almost completely identical to the already-known catfish that is raised on farms and sold in grocery stores nationwide.

The report warns, however, that it remains uncertain whether the alligator-catfish hybrid would be approved by US regulatory institutions. This means the newly-engineered “reptilian mud kitties” may not be made available in supermarkets very soon.

The development of a genetically engineered catfish hybrid with alligator genes may seem logical. Americans consume a lot of the farmed freshwater fish species and the already vast domestic production isn’t sufficient to meet the demand.

Thus, in 2021, the US imported some 256 million pounds of catfish, almost the same amount as the 307 million pounds that the nation produced at home.

Most American catfish farming is concentrated in the southern states, especially in Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, and Mississippi

Raising catfish on farms, however, turns their artificial ponds into a breeding ground for infections, with American farmers losing much of their produce to various diseases.

That is what motivated the Auburn University scientists to try to DNA-engineer a more infection-resistant catfish species and to resort to alligators for the purpose.

The new catfish species that could better resist diseases contain only a “pinch of alligator DNA.”

Americans Will ‘Come Around’ Eventually

The genetic engineering team led by scholars Rex Dunham and Baofeng Su has applied CRISPR technology used for changing animal and plant species genes.

As they were searching for a genetic substance to boost catfish resilience, the researchers found cathlecidin, a unique antimicrobial protein in alligators protecting their wounds from getting infected.

The scientists, though, were concerned their experimental super-fish species could free from farms and breed in neighboring habitats, thus disrupting them.

Because of that, they eliminated a catfish gene for reproduction, again using the CRISPR gene-editing tool. That was replaced with the alligator gene, leaving the hybrid catfish incapable of reproducing.

Experiments with the newly created catfish species have shown it has a survival rate two-to-five times higher than that of non-genetically-engineered catfish, Dunham revealed.

The scientific team’s findings have been published by bioRxiv, but have not been peer-reviewed by other scholars yet.

It remains unclear whether the alligator-catfish hybrid’s production and consumption would be approved by the US government because the CRISPR technology and overall genetic modification are surrounded by ethical concerns.

The report also points out the very idea of selling alligator-catfish hybrids to American consumers could bring about a “marketing problem.”

Dunham himself said he would eat the hybrid’s meat “in a heartbeat,” that it would taste the same as other catfish, and Americans would eventually “come around.”

This article appeared in The State Today and has been published here with permission.