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Fluorescent Fish: The Science & Biotechnology Behind GloFish

Glenn Polyn//February 1, 2023//

Fluorescent Fish: The Science & Biotechnology Behind GloFish

Glenn Polyn //February 1, 2023//

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A brand of Spectrum Brands, GloFish is known for its fluorescent fish that add an alluring array of brilliant colors to any aquarium. Neither injected with dye nor painted, GloFish get their stunning color from a fluorescence gene. Pet Age recently spoke with Dr. Aidas Nasevicius, principal scientist at GloFish, to learn more about the fluorescent fish that first hit the pet market in 2003.


What is fluorescence and how does it relate to a GloFish?

Fluorescent proteins are proteins that absorb one color of light and emit another color. These proteins are found in marine corals and other aquatic animals, and they give the animal the ability to fluoresce. GloFish are freshwater ornamental fish that have an additional gene in their DNA, which comes from marine corals and anemones. Using biotechnology, we add this gene to the fishes’ DNA which gives them the ability to produce the fluorescent protein. Once they mature and reproduce, this gene is passed on to their offspring, just like any other genetic trait. Unlike ornamental fish that have been injected with a dye, the fluorescent protein is produced by the fish just like the other proteins in its body and that color will last throughout their lifetime without harming them, other animals or the environment


What does it take to develop a GloFish line and make it available to the public?

GloFish® Sunburst Orange® Pristella Tetra

The process to develop each new GloFish fluorescent fish takes five to seven years and multiple generations must be produced before the fish can be made available to the public. In addition, throughout the development of each line, the fish must undergo a series of studies. The data from these studies must be submitted to regulators to show that the new gene will be passed from one generation to the next and that every new line of fluorescent fish is safe for the environment, for people and for other animals. Regulatory agencies must assume that the fish could be released into the environment, therefore, only those fish that can be shown to be very unlikely to establish a wild population in North America can be sold in these territories

Today, GloFish fluorescent fish are developed and produced for sale in the U.S. and Canada only. Production and distribution of GloFish within the U.S. is regulated by the FDA and the ECCC regulates any importation, sale, and distribution in Canada. The FDA has not authorized the import of any fluorescent fish produced outside of the United States and the fish have not been approved by regulators in any other country outside of the US and Canada.


What impact has the 2017 acquisition by Spectrum Brands had on GloFish?

The acquisition of the GloFish business by Spectrum Brands significantly increased our resources as well as our ability to conduct more R&D. We continue to expand our new product development each year and have also added additional resources to the business like an aquatic veterinarian. We are currently completing the first phase of the expansion of our R&D facility with a new hatchery designed to dramatically increase our holding capacity and a water reclamation system to capture, sterilize and reuse the water that flows through our hatcheries and greenhouses. These large investments that Spectrum Brands is making today will drive the creation of more GloFish species in the future.


What species, if any, are not conducive to being a GloFish variety?

There are many hurdles that a fish must overcome to become a possible GloFish candidate. Most importantly, there must be an extremely low risk of the fish establishing a population in North America. This immediately rules out any fish that are native to North America like Bluenose Shiners (Pteronotropis welaka) or Pygmy Sunfish (Elassoma evergladei) or non-native species that have established populations such as Goldfish or Oscars. If a fish meets the requirements of being at a very low risk of establishing in North America, then it must also be a fish that has been or can be produced in large quantities. That rules out some great species like the Glass Cat (Kryptopterus vitreolus), which has never been bred in captivity. Lastly, we look for fish that can be produced in quantities that will meet the demand in North America. Our production facilities are all in Florida and they must be registered with the FDA. It is critical from a quality control perspective that they are produced at facilities where we can oversee production from beginning to end and monitor the health of the fish as they leave the facility. Of course, the last hurdle is that the fish must be a species that will create excitement in the aquatic category for our customers and delight the GloFish consumer.


(Above GLOFISH® images owned by GloFish, LLC and used under license)