Mice that glow in the dark are to be used for medical experiments in New Zealand, Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette
Fitzsimons revealed today.
The University of Otago has received permission from the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) to import five
breeding pairs of mice which glow green under ultra-violet light. A fluorescent gene from the jellyfish Aequorea
victoria has been inserted into every cell in the mice, causing them to emit the green light. The trait will be passed
on to the majority of their offspring.
ERMA has also allowed the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in Wellington to import and breed three strains of mice
which contain a firefly gene. While the whole mouse doesn't glow, the activation of the immune system will cause
specific cells to give off light.
The Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in Wellington has received approval to import and breed 61 other strains of
genetically altered mice, who have had genes either added or knocked out. Co-leader of the Green Party, Jeanette
Fitzsimons, said that there were ethical issues involved in breeding strains with genes knocked to make them susceptible
to disease. "There are major animal rights issues here which haven't even been put before the public for discussion." Ms
Fitzsimons said that the public had the right to know what was going on behind closed laboratory doors. "We are
introducing strains of mice who are susceptible to disease into our country. No-one knows what the eventual outcome of
tinkering with their immune systems. While I accept that the research will contribute to our medical knowledge, we need
to look at health from a wider perspective."
Ms Fitzsimons questioned what would happen to the domestic mouse population if the transgenic mice did manage to escape.
"ERMA admits that the most likely outcome of escape would be the pollution of the wild mouse gene pool with Green
Fluorescent Protein. The possibility of polluting any gene pool is something we have to take extremely seriously.
"After months of sitting on a select committee to consider the new animal welfare bill, I have discovered that animals
produced through genetic engineering, like fluorescent mice, are outside the scrutiny of the animal welfare legislation.
Because the genetic transfer is done on a cell, not a whole animal, the welfare of the resulting abnormal animal does
not trigger the provisions of the act."